The Front Runner (2018)
The Front Runner (2018)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: November 21st, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jason Reitman Actors: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Mamoudou Athie, Molly Ephraim, Josh Brener, Ari Graynor, Steve Zissis, Bill Burr, Kevin Pollak, Sara Paxton

 


 

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t the 1984 Democratic National Convention, candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) embarks upon a noteworthy crusade for the nomination, but ultimately concedes to former Vice President Walter Mondale. Four years later, Hart again vies for the presidency and begins a momentous drive that finds him the clear frontrunner. But while the Colorado senator attempts to focus on his policies over his personal life, it’s the latter that garners the attention of the press. After Hart brushes off a probing question into his marriage to wife Lee Ludwig (Vera Farmiga) by the Washington Post, the Miami Herald’s Tom Fiedler (Steve Zissis) and Pete Murphy (Bill Burr) receive a tipoff accusing the politician of marital unfaithfulness. When the two reporters’ stakeout of Hart’s townhouse reveals a possible affair with a mysterious young woman (Sara Paxton), the hasty publication of their findings rapidly threatens to derail both the presidential candidate’s campaign and the integrity of the newspaper itself.

Opening with a shot reminiscent of “Touch of Evil,” with a shifting focus between central characters, the cutting in and out of voices being followed, a single take, and complex camera tracking, “The Front Runner” sets an immediate tone: one of chaos fused with levity. This editing style continues for the first half of the film, utilizing overlapping articulations and innumerable conversations that all possess a casual, natural sensibility. It’s almost as if writer/director Jason Reitman has captured actual communications without the knowledge of the subjects – much like the press would do to the man at the heart of the picture.

“The world changes when young people give a damn.” Politics in the ‘80s doesn’t feel considerably different than today; at the very least, it’s still extremely relevant, even if the public’s reactions have changed. Humorously, one of the first observations made concerns Hart’s nice hair – and how many points it’s worth (4 to 6, depending on the wind). The supreme irony of “The Front Runner” is its examination of moral stumbles, particularly infidelity, which is enough to sink a career here – yet in the political world of the present, that very same ethical dilemma virtually bolsters its candidate’s base.

As this biography follows the rise and fall of Hart, it documents verbal exchanges almost exclusively between gatherings of people, as if brainstorming sessions. Alternating between campaign headquarters, newsroom briefings, televised debates, family life, and the media sorting through and interpreting it all, there’s a frenzy at the start that doesn’t let up. Even when a character plays the piano, the music crosses over into the next couple of scenes, creating an intricate layering that feels as if a great deal of information is being crammed into a short amount of time. Nonstop bouts of yammering, which intrude upon photo ops and interviews and phone calls, boast a pleasant serving of sarcasm (heaped on predominantly by J.K. Simmons as campaign manager Bill Dixon), while music, sound effects, location changes, camera movements, and archival footage overlap or rapidly intercut the action. The screen is oftentimes so busy that a lot of the background chatter gets lost in the commotion.

Artistically, as Hart’s career winds down, so does the delirium of the frame, slowing to the point of long takes and moments of silence. The end, which is certainly not a nail-biter for those familiar with history, fascinatingly analyzes the role of the press (“We have a responsibility here; it’s up to us to hold these guys accountable”) and the limits of privacy, especially for someone seeking the highest public office in the land. Just as it’s a potential conflict of interest that news outlets are for-profit, resulting in a drive toward gossip and scandal (the readers supposedly decide how low journalism will go), it’s unreasonable that a politician would expect a professional courtesy to ignore their indiscretions. Perhaps the most graspable comparison is that presidential hopefuls have become like Hollywood stars, scrutinized by their own version of the paparazzi.

“The public doesn’t care about this crap!” But, of course, they do. Curiously, were it not for the timeliness and similarities of Hart’s tale, which can’t avoid comparisons to the 2016 presidential controversies, “The Front Runner” would have been a rather straightforward, formulaic depiction of a top politician meeting disgrace over commonplace misconduct.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10