Director Jason Reitman has already brought us one of my favourite films of the year in Tully. He managed to create something funny, dramatic and real, blending together a great script and a fantastical premise. It was not to be missed and added to the directors already brilliant filmography. This is what excited me for The Front Runner, there is a brilliant cast on board for sure with Hugh Jackman and JK Simmons being two of the big hitters in this, but Reitman as a director always interests me and thankfully, this film does not disappoint.
The film follows Gary Hart, the front-runner (hey! wait a minute) in the 1988 presidential elections. His campaign is destroyed in a matter of weeks when the press, desperate for a story, catch him red-handed in an affair. The Front Runner is one of many impeccable timed films to come out conveniently during a period where we can look and it and say to ourselves “Wow. That looks familiar”. Even more convenient is that Sony decided to make this film one of the first ever to open on an election day in the United States.
And for good reason too, the film calls into question the ethics of the press and the behaviour of candidates going into the highest office in the world. It is like it can’t help but invite the viewer to compare the events with those unfolding in US politics to shame. It manages to make the so-called scandalous affair that happened in the 1980s look like small blips on the resume of what could have made a fine candidate for president by today’s standards.
Reitman and the writers handle these arguments, not only about Hart’s actions but those of the press brilliantly with both sides being presented in a way that will make you think in a way that smaller, less mainstream films fail at almost all the time. For example, I saw another film while in London this year called Non-Fiction. This film covers the same topics, for the most part, mainly focusing on the political aspect. The issue with it is that it didn’t have much to say in terms of an argument and not only that, but it wasn’t woven into the story in an interesting way.
The film anchors all these points with a centrepiece performance in Hugh Jackman. He brings Gary Hart to the screen convincingly. A man who is sick of his personal matters being invaded by the press, he believes there should be a level of privacy for every person and is constantly at odds with the press who believe it is their job to report on his escapades. Jackman is not completely lost in the performance. Sometimes he can take you out of it due to his sheer star power, bringing you to realise you’re just watching him shout about with a bad 80s haircut.
A special note should also be given to the supporting cast. JK Simmons is a scene stealer, even if his character doesn’t appear in the film all that much. He plays the campaign manager, Simmons plays in his signature style of angry, loveable, arsehole. He is treated to some of the funniest lines in the movie and is a delight to see on screen.
Vera Farmiga is also equally fabulous as Gary Hart’s wife. While not given enough of the spotlight to truly shine alone, she is still an important part of the film, showing the effect that all of this media circus is having on the family, and the film does an excellent job of juggling all the pieces including the press and Gary Hart himself.
On a more technical note, the film is gorgeously on the ball with its 80s aesthetic from beginning to end. It opens with a scanned Columbia logo from a film of from the decade, its appearance for the entire film is drenched in beautiful grain because according to IMDb it was shot on 35mm. It feels as if it could have come straight from the decade, the soundtrack complimenting this completely. if you’re willing to look past the stars from the present it could easily pass for it.
The film is some genuinely interesting “Oscar bait” full of great performance, a brilliant script with something to say, all stunningly put together in one brilliant package. I’ve seen some mediocre reactions to the film, so I went in with lower expectations but came out completely surprised at just how good it was. Looking at his last film, maybe that’s the effect Hugh Jackman has now?