I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of The Front Runner at the London Film Festival. This political drama, steady burn, is about the paradox of celebrity, and the constant pushback of where the moral buck lies between the person with fame, the reporters who make the fame, and the audience who devour it. The movie had some sticking points but raises some very interesting questions. Who pays the price of fame? Who asks for it? Where do our private lives start and end if we are in the public circle? Where does it deserve to start and end, and who is owed it?
It is with the case of frontrunner politician and presidential hopeful Gary Hart that these questions were first asked in America, in 1988. He was the democratic hopeful, seemingly untouchable. That is, until reporters caught a woman leaving his house, who was not his wife, exposing his extramarital affair.
The confrontation of the reporters in the back alley with Hart (Hugh Jackman) is a real crux of the film. All of them are unsure what they’re doing, what unknown this new trajectory could venture in to. The reporters are more scared the Hart, who never seems to let slip his real feelings even once in the film, shrouding him in mystery which is a good choice for his portrayal by Jackman. I’ve never seen Jackman with as little charisma as I have in this film, but it works to show the political emotional distance every campaigner has.
That being said, the film does sometimes lag. The heavy legal jargon and the tight, swinging close ups require intense concentration, and brings to mind Spotlight but without the intensity and bubbling excitement. The movie raises questions about morality and social scrutiny, but it doesn’t manage to answer them or give a solid argument. This murky ending results in a dark tone, whether this was the intention or not is unclear.
Lee Hart (Vera Farmiga) plays the stoic and serious wife with aplomb, with a key scene with Jackman at the end, the only time they are ever alone together. In fact, Hart is often shot with the back of his head shown, and every other character talking around him, emphasising the strategic positioning he is constantly being morphed into.
Overall, The Front Runner engages the viewer for the first act of the movie, lagging a little in the second and third. The ensemble cast work together well, supporting a toned down Jackman. For a political thriller, it doesn’t quite win the race, but it has its moments and leaves behind a lasting message.
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