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Review: The Front Runner (TIFF 2018)

The Front Runner (TIFF 2018)
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PLOT: In the lead-up to the Democratic Primary,  the leading candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman), sees his campaign wither when news of his extra-marital affairs hit the public.

REVIEW: THE FRONT RUNNER marks a major return to form for director Jason Reitman, with him returning to issue-driven comedy-drama, a formula that’s worked a lot better for him than his two forays into melodrama with LABOR DAY and MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN.

   

It certainly helps that Gary Hart’s story is a great one. For those of you not in the know, Hart was considered the democratic party’s strongest candidate to run against George Bush in the 1988 election. Handsome and charismatic (with A-list friends such as Warren Beatty), he was apparently seen as a kind of throwback to John F. Kennedy. However, that comparison proved to be all too accurate when news of his philandering hit the press. While such allegations were hardly ruinous to Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, for Hart they proved to be his undoing, and Reitman’s film tracks the three-week period that saw his campaign unravel.

While this takes place in the eighties (in a nice nod the eighties Columbia Pictures logo is used), the style is very similar to Michael Ritchie’s THE CANDIDATE, a 1972 political drama starring Robert Redford, that took a docudrama look the machinations behind political campaigning. This takes a similar approach. While Hugh Jackman is front and center as Hart, the focus is evenly distributed among the actors playing his campaign workers, with J. K.  Simmons as his right-hand man, and the “gentlemen” of the press, who helped end Hart’s presidential ambitions.

Reitman’s film never demonizes the media, even if they played a big part in his downfall. Hart himself isn’t let off the hook, with his womanizing and naiveté given equal focus. In fact, the journalists are presented, for the most part, conscientiously, with Mamoudou Athie most important as a journalist torn between his own affection for Hart and his duty to follow-up on the fact that this presidential candidate is a liar. Meanwhile, Vera Farmiga is affecting as Hart’s embarrassed but supportive wife.

For Jackman, it’s a very out of character part, with him very low-key and dignified throughout. He may not be the most conscientious husband, but you’ll still have sympathy for him. The eighties setting isn’t overdone, with eighties tunes and garish clothing of the era used but not constantly. It looks more like the real version of the eighties than the nostalgia filtered version we typically get.

While a political film, THE FRONT RUNNER remains even-handed, never presenting the democrats as inherently noble or demonizing the republicans, who are shown to have no real role in Hart’s self-created downfall. It’s in intriguing history lesson and a revealing look at how power and prestige is nothing if not fragile.

 

 
Source: JoBlo.com

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