The Front Runner - This Movie Rocks The Foundations
Dir: Jason Reitman
Starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sarah Paxton, JK Simmons, Alfred Molina
Jason Reitman is very much back on form with The Front Runner, an incisive political drama that, despite largely being set in 1988, proves to be almost frighteningly contemporary.
Hugh Jackman too is at the top of his game in the true life story of Gary Hart, the Democratic candidate who seemed to have the White House within his grasp, until an affair with a blonde model leaked to the press and rewrote the rulebook for both modern politics and journalism both, as Reitman’s very persuasive film contends here.
Any modern American political drama finds itself in the shadow of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing, and here Reitman seems only too happy to invite such comparisons as he makes use of The West Wing’s font for all his on screen titles. And it proves to be a movie worthy of such comparisons. Reitman adopts a fast moving, fast talking largely hand-held style, going for long sustained shots as he moves his camera though packs of press, and throngs of the candidate’s strategists, picking up snatches of conversations as he moves through, producing something of an Altman-esque overlapping dialogue feel to his film. Indeed, that ‘70s influence pervades here at times – the movie clearly owes a debt to Michael Ritchie’s 1972 The Candidate in both style and content. But whilst that movie was a satire, Reitman’s borders closer to something of a tragedy. This is the ‘80s now, the 1988 primaries to be specific, and Reitman equates Hart’s fall from grace with the moment that politics shifted away from issues and into personality, when private lives were no longer deemed to be private, and when the press – some willing, some not – were forced to take on this new economy of giving the people what they wanted and felt they needed. On one level it’s very simply summed up by the fact that Hart’s withdrawal from the race begat the age of George Bush and all that has followed.
Thankfully, The Front Runner is never as simplistic as that, something captured perfectly in Jackman’s fine performance, as a conflicted Hart, essentially a good man with a mixture of naiveté and arrogance over the manner in which he conducted his private life. It’s a finely tuned, beautifully nuanced turn that sees the former Showman at his very finest, and should see him all but guaranteed an Oscar nom. Joining him there (if there’s any justice) should be Farmiga in the Supporting Actress category, who brings a sustained dignity to the role of his long suffering wife Lee, who also knows how to deliver the necessary ultimatums when the shit goes down.
As should be the case in a movie such as this, Reitman delivers a top quality ensemble supporting cast all round, with JK Simmons impressive as always, and Sarah Paxton delivering superb work as the woman Hart had the affair with, Donna Rice. Paxton may not have the biggest role in the movie – but she sure has the best line, and delivers it perfectly.
Alfred Molina shows up as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, something that can’t help but draw comparison to former movies such as All the Presidents Men and The Post. But whilst those movies were about the idealism of the press, and the fight to preserve that in the face of corrupt power, The Front Runner deals more with the cynicism that was just beginning to encroach back in ’88, but which feels all but pervasive today.
Thoughtful, provocative, beautifully acted and powerful in its assumptions, Rietman's film failed to find an audience in its native United States. Will it echo the fate of its central figure Gary Hart and find itself out in the cold come awards season? Sadly, it's looking more and more inevitable. Undeservedly.
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