From fighting with mutants to fighting off accusations of morality, Hugh Jackman stars as former Democratic presidential candidate, Gary Hart, in ‘The Front Runner’, the thrilling adaptation of ‘All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid’.
Opening briefly in 1984, during an unsuccessful run at nominations, the stylistics for the majority of ‘The Front Runner’ are cemented early on; pressure and obsession from the press, accompanied with extensive camera tracking and pans galore. Immediately fast-forwarding to 1987/1988, Gary Hart is the man to be, with what looks to be a successful campaign managed by J. K. Simmons’ Bill Dixon. Supported by his wife, Lee, Vera Farmiga, and daughter, Andrea, Kaitlyn Dever, Gary Hart is presented as a wonderful family man, both at home and at work…until allegations of extramarital on-goings emerge, forcing everything at home and at work into disarray.
Though Hugh Jackman is living a magnificent legacy as Wolverine, and has found extraordinary musical success in ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’, it is a pleasure to witness Jackman at the top of his game again in a drama for the first time since Denis Villeneuve’s missing persons thriller ‘Prisoners’. As Gary Hart, however, his performance was reminiscent of both Gregory Peck and Clint Eastwood. The dismissive stance towards allegations of extramarital occurrences drew immediate parallels to Gregory Peck’s dismissive attitude as Robert Thorn in 1976’s ‘The Omen’, and overall, Jackman’s performance as Gary Hart is something that Clint Eastwood could have done at anytime between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, there was just that ambiance present.
As for J. K. Simmons, he should be knocking on the door for a second Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar. For so much of ‘The Front Runner’’s duration, Simmons’ Bill Dixon is ever present and key whether it be during the highs or lows of Hart’s run as candidate. Had Dixon been pushed further in dictating the narrative of ‘The Front Runner’, and not as an almost comic relief character early on, the fortunes of Simmons and the film could have been different.
When a film is set within a select period, be it the mid-1950s or late-1980s, for the audience of said film to truly believe in what they’re watching, the director must successfully deceive their audience into believing that they are watching the year in which said film is set. Hairpieces aside, ‘The Front Runner’’s best visual element of deception is of television set presentation. TVs are present everywhere and their placements look natural too. Takeaway the TVs and there may be doubts over whether ‘The Front Runner’ has that late-80s look.
Though essentially doing their ‘job’, director Jason Reitman is completely masterful in presenting various members of the press as desperate, sleazy, obsessive and even vicious at times. Establishing the press, to an extent, as the antagonists of ‘The Front Runner’, Reitman places his viewers in a position of moral distraught as they are forced between the immoral Gary Hart and the hounding press, resulting in moral compasses taking a hammering.
This is Reitman’s second film within the space of a year and it will divide opinion. Some will love it, whilst others will hate it for half-suggesting viewers to side with a disgraced Gary Hart. Some will admire the extensive track and pan shots, though others will be fuming over the lack of Lee Hart, as her presence should have been on par with the antagonising press. Love it or hate it, ‘The Front Runner’ should establish debates over the importance over marriage morality and truth involving political figures, of whom voters are to believe in.
So as tremendous as ‘The Front Runner’ is, there is a feeling that it could and should have been a big awards contender. Maybe, just maybe, for example, had the characters of Bill Dixon and Lee Hart been pushed further, including a more explicit presentation of the emotional impact suffered by the individuals of the Hart family, the film could have been a front runner for the Oscars. That being said, ‘The Front Runner’ magnificently establishes intensity and interest, despite audiences already knowing the outcome, that is if they have read the Wikipedia entry on the 1987/1988 events, read the source material, or are old enough to remember it, and this is a sign of a successful biographical drama.
Written by Dominic Hastings
Rating – 8/10
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