In 1987 Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) was the favourite for the Democratic Presidential nomination. That is, until The Miami Herald broke a story about Hart's extramarital affair with Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). This is the story of Hart's presidential campaign and his subsequent fall from grace.
Hugh Jackman delivers one of the best performances of his career as the presidential hopeful, bringing charisma and passion to the role...not to mention some very big hair! Unfortunately, despite being very open about his campaign and politics, it would be Hart's refusal to address his personal life and infidelity that would be his downfall. Jackman - who spent a lot of time both with and researching Hart - is able to show all sides of the man flawlessly, including his frustration at having to deal with the scandal.
Despite knowing the outcome of the story, Jason Reitman is still able to inject a fair amount of tension into the story. It's interesting to see a scandal like this play out in a pre-social media age. Lets face it, this story would be a lot shorter if it took place in 2019. At a time when an orange moron - who continually spews out hateful, offensive tripe - occupies the Oval Office, it's odd to think that Gary Hart, a forward thinker and much more likeable candidate was brought down at the first hurdle. I find it odd that a man who - outwardly at least - seemed hell bent on changing the world, failed to adapt to the way it was changing. Had he done so, the Democrats may have still had a shot at the White House and I would be reviewing a very different movie.
The problem with a movie like this, with the focus very much on the main character, the rest of the cast is left with very little to do. This includes all those portraying members of Hart's campaign, his family, the press and the other side of the scandal, Donna Rice. J. K. Simmons, Vera Farmiga, Kaitlyn Dever, Alfred Molina and many more all give brilliant performances. But we learn very little about the characters, their involvement in the scandal and how it affected them. Donna Rice is reduced to a mere bit part, although Sara Paxton does very well with what she has. A scene in which she's at a bar with one of Hart's staffers, contemplating what's left of her future is particularly hard hitting. However, there's never any mention of how the scandal actually affected her life.
The Front Runner is an engrossing drama surrounding a major political scandal in a pre-social media age. Unfortunately the choice to focus on Hart leaves the rest of the cast with little to do. That said, this is a career best performance for Hugh Jackman. If Jackman's portrayal of Gary Hart is close to the real thing, Hart probably would have made a great President. Unfortunately we will never know, because his campaign was brought down by a very clichéd scandal.
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