The Front Runner was originally reviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival. It opens in limited release Nov. 7.
It would be easy to dismiss director Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner as a film that’s too late to the conversation. After all, a politician losing his career for cheating on his wife may seem too small to deserve a movie now when contemporary politicians get away with far bigger misdeeds. But while Reitman's well-acted film does manage to find relevance in its scrutiny of politicians and the press who cover them, it's just too indecisive to say anything deeply important about either camp.
Hugh Jackman plays a different kind of great showman here, real life US politician Gary Hart who, after coming in second for the Democratic primaries in 1984, became the obvious front runner to win the presidency in 1988. The title card notes that a lot can happen in the three weeks leading up to the election, and we subsequently follow the downfall of a man who not only seemed like the sure winner, but the absolute best candidate to lead a nation. Jackman captures Gary Hart’s quick wit and charisma, convincing one there was never any doubt of him winning. During his campaign tour, we see Hart expertly throwing axes, calming a journalist scared of turbulence, and sharing his radical viewpoints (for the time). He seems like the perfect man, and Jackman sells it with a winning smile. Yet behind the smile hides a very private man. “It’s none of their business”, Hart says repeatedly throughout the film when grilled about his personal life, and it encapsulates the film’s approach to such a guarded character. Some will likely leave The Front Runner not knowing anything more about Gary Hart the person than they did before, and that’s probably how he would have wanted it.