Hugh Jackman’s bloody charming isn’t he? Affable, handsome, he’s the kind of guy you’d accept to kiss your baby if the photo opportunity arose. Fitting then, that he’s taken the role of Senator Gary Hart, the topic of Jason Reitman’s latest true story drama of the man who was winning the people’s hearts, only to break them following a moment of scandal and secrets that thwarted his run for the presidency (can you imagine?).
Set in 1988, Gary Hart is leagues ahead of the competition for being the Democratic Presidential nominee, gaining nothing but approval of voters and taking the lead in the race to the White House. Greeting the press with open arms and rounds of drinks when he has the chance, a loving family man with a focus set on the future of improving his country, he’s a campaign manager’s dream, right until he has an absolute nightmare.
After a day out on a boat full of booze and beautiful people, whispers slowly make their way back to shore and to the attention of the Miami Herald that Hart may have been unfaithful, sparking the paper to go after this pristine political figure to see if there’s any truth on the matter. A few cracks begin to show as the Senator tries to quash word of this apparent iniquity believing that it won’t matter to the public, but pretty soon it’s all the people can talk about, silencing Hart and burning up any chance of his presidential dreams along with it.
The subject alone is enough to give The Front Runner the chance to thrive given the current political climate. Harking back to a time when word of affairs and secrets would spark outrage and be nearly unthinkable, there are so many buttons to push, but Reitman struggles in doing so. When rumour does begin to circulate about Hart’s activities, the pressure cooker merely simmers and not reaching the boiling point it should be getting to. Thankfully, it’s the likes of Jackman and Vera Farmiga as his loving on-screen wife to help build the tension. As the former is probed by his campaign manager, Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons delivering as usual), devoted wife and mother, Oletha (Farmiga), is hounded by news reporters on the front lawn and questioning her husband and the scandal surrounding him.
On the other side of the story sits another mild and somewhat missed opportunity from Reitman, as he shows insight into both the staff at the Miami Herald and the Washington Post. Bill Burr makes a surprising and welcome appearance alongside Steve Zissis as the Herald’s hungry news hounds loitering outside the senator’s city residence waiting to get the scoop, paving the way for the start of Hart’s fall from grace.
In the meantime, the team at Washington Post are grappling with whether to run with the story or not, questioning their integrity over a topic that would eventually become fair game. Seeing the machinations of dealing with the story is another missed chance for both Reitman and the cast he has at hand. Alfred Molina feels wasted as Ben Bradlee, while Mamoudou Athie’s Post reporter, AJ Parker battles with chipping away at a man he ultimately respects. Such are the trials that are on show but never really tested in a way that other films have succeeded in, leaving The Front Runner failing to be the hard-hitting news story it has every opportunity to be.