As a political junkie, the idea of Hugh Jackman and Jason Reitman doing a movie about Gary Hart’s disastrous 1988 presidential campaign had me. Unfortunately, The Front Runner left me too quickly to actually make some sort of impact. A great metaphor for the Hart campaign. In simpler language, the film had little impact on me much like the real-life campaign of Gary Hart.
Based upon the novel All The Truth Is Out by Matt Bai, the film focused on many of the tropes that we have seen in real-life and fictional political films. “The people don’t dictate how I live my life.” It even raises the bigger question of whether people care about these antics, even to the point of does infidelity classify as news. Kinda sorta making a statement about our current climate, but that it even more complicated.
While the film was packing some star power with Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, and J.K. Simmons, the failure of the film lies mostly in the script of Jason Reitman and Jay Carson, who received screen credit after the script by Matt Bai. Yes, a lot of things happened during the course of four weeks. However, it seems that instead of focusing on Hart as a man, much of his development rested in throwaway lines from the supporting characters.
The true dynamic of the film was enhanced by the character building moments between Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) and Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim). The film spends some time to give Rice a three dimensional aspect but fails to get into true motives and building on their relationship. Even the passive exposition of the Miami-Herald breaking the news, seemed to be a condemnation of their determining what was and wasn’t news.
Some minor stories didn’t need to exist, mainly due to not going anywhere, was The Washington Post storyline. AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie) was too young and too idealistic to be a real reporter. He tried to be the eyes of the “audience” as to whether this should even be told. Alfred Molina was wasted in the role of Ben Bradlee. In fact, I would have preferred him in The Post instead of Tom Hanks. Although, I would have preferred that movie never having been made.
Jackman’s Hart seemed very stoic. No emotional depth. No explanation as to why he is emotionally distant or even admit to any real wrong-doing. Farmiga’s performance as Lee Hart carried the weight of the film. She seemed to be the only realistic character in it. She is outraged, but that it is between them. Which was the script’s way of limiting their emotional depth.
The film is littered with random characters, who fill his staff, but none were developed – not to mention even necessary. Reitman’s uses of over-laying dialog made it unclear which conversation was important. In some instances, the important dialogue was drowned out by the ridiculous conversation about the back door.
The Front Runner was a mess of mindless characters and contrived dialogue. The film itself lost its own focus while trying to focus on the spectacle of the allegations. Even furthering the frustration, nothing was mentioned of the other allegations that were revealed that led to Hart dropping out of the race. The bias of the filmmakers of trying to improve the image of Gary Hart seemed to cloud the overall direction of the film. Without this movie, I would have been okay with Hart remaining in the obscurity of political history.