The Front Runner (2018)

the front runner

Real-world dramas in Britain and the US offer rich inspiration for today’s political drama movies. The multi-award nominated Vice (2018)is an essay on how vulnerable to manipulation American democracy can be, and now The Front Runner (2018)takes a nostalgic look at a time when morality and integrity mattered for high office.

Based on a true story,Front Runner traces Gary Hart’s (Hugh Jackman) 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He was a charismatic media darling whose supporters believed he would be the next US President. So confident was he that an off-the-cuff comment made at a press conference invited journalists to step over the public-private line, daring them to find dirt on him. When they did, they found what today would barely raise a Twitter.

Hart’s private affair soon became a public scandal; his reputation was in tatters, his family devasted and political career abruptly terminated. That much we knew. The Front Runnergoes beyond the historical record to show what this train-wreck must have felt like during a frenetic three-week campaign. Cinematography and editing are key to what this film achieves. Rapid scene cuts and hand-held camerawork convey the frenzy of political campaigning, showing the close-up reactions of people as the winds of fortune swirled wildly. In a split second, arrogance turns to stunned disbelief when Hart and his team see their futures vanish before their eyes.

Some have questioned the depth of Jackman’s performance and whether he was the most appropriate choice to play an American politician. Through a different lens, one can see that inauthenticity helps him pull off a convincing performance. Jackman’s portrayal of Hart is one of shallow theatricality oozing with ambition, and these are tools of trade for any politician aspiring to high office. He is well supported by J. K. Simmons as campaign manager and backroom elder statesman, while Vera Farmiga is excellent as his disillusioned but loyal wife.

Jackman fills his brief well, but this is not a character study. The film’s higher purpose is to remind us that it was not that long ago when scandals were terminal whereas today they are forgiven as indiscretions. The Hart campaign is also acknowledged as a turning point in media history, when the wall separating a politician’s private and public life was breached forever. Political dramas like The Front Runner teach as well as entertain.


Director: Jason Reitman

Stars:  Hugh Jackman, J.K. Simmons, Vera Farmiga