The Front Runner chronicles the story of Senator Gary Hart as he tries to win the Democratic nominee to run for President in 1988. Leading up to the Democratic Convention, he was the front-runner and looking like the next President of the United States until things took a turn for the worse. When a reporter from Miami uncovers the fact that he may have a mistress and not necessarily lead the family life that the American people expect, things go wrong.
Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart and does fantastic work with the material. There are two distinct parts of Gary Hart we are privy to in the film: the Democratic Senator and the everyday man who believes in the privacy of his own life. When that privacy is invaded or questioned by the media or even his friends, Gary turns on the defensive and is adamant that his ability to lead and his private matters have nothing to do with each other.
These intense moments with Jackman are really where the film takes off. The scenes with him and reporter, AJ Parker (Mamadou Athie) are some of the best in the film. AJ struggles with his convictions and whether or not Gary is right that his private life should stay private. Their scenes are just ripe with tension and emotion and are easily the best moments in the film. Vera Farmiga who plays Gary’s wife is great but was given too little in my opinion. I think she could’ve been even better with a bit more material.
The dialogue in the film is sharply written and delivered expertly by the main and supporting cast. There are a few scenes with the campaigners who work for Gary and they are sitting in a room with just rapid-fire lines and humor shooting back and forth at each other. It feels a bit like the show Newsroom in these moments.
I love the questions that the film asks and brings to the forefront of the audience’s minds. They make us question if public and private life really matter when it comes to the ability to lead. This, in turn, rolls into the role of the media and their coverage of political candidates. In this film, we are faced with the question of how the media covers politics as well. They’ve turned politicians into more of celebrities than politicians. It begs us to question if that is how we’ve ended up where we are now in the United States.
Where I have issues with the film come from the pacing and the runtime of the film. At 113 minutes the film is far too long and starts to lose momentum in the middle of the film. It spends far too much time on the development of the scandal and that makes the film lose a bit of the edge it has. Toward the end, we get the film back on track and really to the core of the film, so it does pay off in the end.
The Front Runner has a lot of fascinating points that it manages to make, led by a stellar Hugh Jackman performance. Despite the slight pacing issues and bloated run-time, it is the best kind of film: the one that has you questioning the state of the world.