THE FRONT RUNNER is yet another Jason Reitman misfire for me. Which is disappointing, because at one time I used to love him as a director. He’s only really made 3 really great films, a sort of Son of Reitman trilogy if you will: Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up In The Air. And yes, I realize this is Jason Reitman’s second film this year, but truth be told, I didn’t really like Tully all that much. It was decent until the Fight Club ending ruined it. I didn’t like Men, Women, & Children and I didn’t like Labor Day, and I am not a fan of Young Adult. The Front Runner had the potential to add a 4th great film onto his filmography, but alas the film has a very distracting uneven focus (I know I’ve been using that word a lot lately but narrative focus is very important to me), it never really analyzes the issues it raises, it doesn’t tell the whole story, and its kind of boring. Hugh Jackman is good in it, but Oscar worthy is a term that gets thrown around too much. This role is not Oscar worthy for him, if you want to see Hugh Jackman act and also be Oscar worthy, watch Logan, Prisoners, or Les Miserables.
The Front Runner is essentially about a senator named Gary Hart who was this close to actually becoming President instead of George H.W. Bush (we are told a million times that he is 12 points ahead of Bush) in the late 80s, but a scandal involving extra marital affairs essentially destroyed his entire campaign in three weeks. The real problem with the movie is that the film doesn’t know who to focus on, and it leaves it a muddled mess. At one point it’s focused on Hart, then it decides he himself isn’t interesting enough, so then it focuses on the press, and then it finds that isn’t interesting enough so then it focuses on his campaign workers, and then it finds that isn’t interesting enough, so it focuses on Hart’s wife and daughter, and then that isn’t interesting enough so it focuses on Donna Rice and a campaign worker trying to get information out of her but keep her quite. It changes focus so often and so fast, it seems that Hugh Jackman, about half way through the film, is pushed out of his own movie, and doesn’t really pop back up to finally defend himself at the very end. But way before then it lost my interest anyway. I was constantly checking my watch seeing how much time the movie had left.
The film should’ve picked one or maybe two points of view and stuck with it. Focus on Hart and maybe the journalists who uncovered a possible affair. Yet even then, I think that the movie still wouldn’t have analyzed the issues it raises, such as public opinion on politicians and skeletons in their closets or how journalists have developed over the years (the movie seems to turn them from men to monsters very fast). The movie really doesn’t show any examples of public opinion on the matter. We are told by the journalists, and campaign people what people think, but we are never shown any instances of that (again, I know I use that a lot in my reviews, but showing rather than telling is essential). Maybe the movie should’ve had a couple of news samples with journalists interviewing everyday folk about Hart? I don’t know what could’ve saved this movie. I thought the movie was going to be ambigious about whether or not Hart had the affair, and that would’ve been interesting, but in one scene it tells you all you need to know probably about what happened. And after that scene, I was disappointed it didn’t go in a “what if?” route.
Other than Hugh Jackman, every other star here is absolutely wasted. Vera Farmiga plays Gary Hart’s wife, and you’d think she’s have a strong emotional impact on the film about what this “scandal” is doing to her and her family, but we get a short little speech about how she asked Hart to never embarrass her, and then we are shown her talking on the phone to her daughter about journalists and papparazzi harassing her. You are telling me Jason Reitman couldn’t have filmed a scene showing that harassment? It could’ve packed a huge emotional punch, but instead, it’s Vera Farmiga in the background, on a pay phone, telling the audience what happened basically. Reitman is throwing filmmaking 101 right out the fucking window with scenes like this. There’s a bunch of other stars with bit parts and two lines, and this review would be too long to read, so I just want to talk about J.K. Simmons really quickly. It seems that Simmons is maybe the campaign headquarters manager? And his character is completely useless other than spouting off “wink wink” dialogue to the audience every 2 minutes, commenting on how journalism, politicians, and public opinion is changing. Gee, I wonder what he is really commenting on there???? A couple of nods is fine, but literally every piece of dialogue that came out of his mouth was just telling the audience that’s the way things are now…because because….”do you get it?”
One last thing before I sign off here. I read what really happened with Gary Hart after the movie, and a lot of information is missing or was completely tossed out the window. Hart *spoilers* eventually ends his campaign due to harassment and not wanting to be upfront with journalists about the affair, but come to find out, he comes back and starts it again, but then he is quickly delegated to the background of politics. That would’ve been an interesting segment to watch. Also, this whole scandal wasn’t only about the women he may or may not have had sex with in his town home, but it was also about a relationship when he was separated with his wife and also how his campaign was really really in debt from his 1984 stab at the throne. They mention the relationship quickly off hand and they never mention this debt. That would’ve been more interesting to the proceedings of why he initially cancelled his campaign. But alas, the film just focuses on the possible affair, and Hart’s hesitation to just answer questions the way the media and public want to hear them answered. When watching the movie, it just doesn’t make much sense why it is a big hoopla. Like I said, if it would’ve had more of a focus on just Hart, I think that message would’ve come across more clear.
But yeah, another disappointment form Jason Reitman, starting to not look forward to his films when they come out in the future. When this was his second movie this year, it kind of became clear that this was rushed in order to make it into Oscar season. If it gets nominated for anything, I will be shocked. If the script was retooled and it was delayed a year, we might’ve gotten something really really good out of Reitman, Jackman, and anyone involved. This is just another political film lost in a sea of mediocre political films. Oh well.