SP Review: 'The Front Runner' has something to say but ends up falling behind

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'The Front Runner' 4.5/10 stars

The relationship between former Senator Gary Hart and the media is one that poses a lot of interesting questions: what lengths should media outlets go to in order to get a story? What kind of view should be on a politician's personal life while they are in public office? If so, how should citizens treat that view? 

All of those ideas are present in Jason Reitman's new fillm, "The Front Runner." Reitman's resume includes films like "Juno," "Up In The Air" and this year's "Tully." 

Reitman is usually a good director to understand subtlety and I thought he would be a great choice to tackle a story as pivotal as Gary Hart's. While the film has some things to say about contemporary topics in politics and boasts an impressive cast, "The Front Runner" doesn't work due to its messy construction and resistance to acknowledge its ideas. 

If you don't know the story of Gary Hart, the gist of it is that he was a Senator from Colorado from 1975 to 1987. Hart was the titular "front runner" for the Democratic nomination for U.S. president in 1987 and had a major lead over every other Democratic candidate. However, after a story was published accusing him of having an extramarital affair, he and his family were swarmed by the media and he suspended his campaign in response. 

This film tells Hart's story with Hugh Jackman in the role of Hart, along with Vera Farmiga as his wife, Lee, J.K. Simmons as Hart's campaign manager Bill Dixon, and Alfred Molina as editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee. 


The film boasts an Academy Award-level cast on paper, and to his credit, Reitman does allow the actors to flex that prestige in moments. It’s not surprising that Hugh Jackman delivers another great performance, but how he’s used in the film is unexpected. He portrays Hart with a distanced humanity, which we usually see whenever Hart is dealing with people outside of his circle. 

Simmons is playing the authority figure gig he does so well, but performances by Jason Robards and Tom Hanks present much more interesting portrayals of Bradlee than Molina does.

Vera Farmiga's interpretation of Hart's wife is very impressive. For the confines of her role in the movie, Farmiga gives us a woman who knows darn well what her husband does, and ultimately can’t do much when the scandal happens. Through some subtle moments, she shows us someone who had put up with so much to hopefully give her family a good life, something her husband may have taken for granted. 

But therein lies the problem I’ve been alluding to: the writing. Reitman actually wrote this movie with former U.S Press Secretary Jay Carson, and while the film does capture the hectic nature of a presidential campaign trail, it never tries to give us any explanation to what’s going on. Rather, it settles for loads of political jargon and recreated news clips that never fully grabbed me as an audience member. 

The way it portrays journalists during this time is, at best, lackluster and at worst, highly cringe worthy. Bill Burr plays the reporter who 'uncovers' Hart’s affair and is portrayed so sleazily you’d think he was the villain of a 60’s B-movie. The movie tries to dive into that ethical question, but by the end, there’s no big question posed for journalists, only for Hart, and as the audience we’re left with the image of journalists hiding in bushes or running into escort cars for answers to stories that may or may not be true. 

There are also a few moments when the film dives into issues of femininity, creating some of the most interesting points the film has to make.

For example, Hart's mistress, Donna Rice, played by Sara Paxton, has a few discussions with a female campaign staffer (played by Molly Ephrain) about how about how she’ll likely be associated with this scandal for the rest of her life while men like Hart can outlive it. In addition, there's the moment when one of the female newspaper editors is telling a reporter why she distrusts people like Hart, not necessarily because of what he did, but the position and ideas he represents. 

While these are minor instances in the narrative, these moments paint a more well-rounded situation. Hart isn't just someone who did shady things but also someone who exposed his own immorality and put multiple women in the spotlight of a society that may unfairly blame them.

Movies like the "The Front Runner" should get made because the ideas presented here are ones that are contemporary and necessary to be discussed. But this isn’t the film to do it, not when the things it focuses on are misused, and the ones that should be in focus are put in the background. If you’re truly fascinated by this story, give it a shot, but there’s better movies like it and Jason Reitman can do better. 

Overall, I give ‘The Front Runner’ 4.5/10 stars.


Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.