American politics rarely comes without scandal. Never has this been truer than today, but Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner takes us back to the presidential election of 1988, an equally as troublesome time for at least one particular individual.
Democratic candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is considered the top candidate for the most powerful position in the country. He has everything a president needs – charisma, a decent idea of what he wants to achieve (“the three Es – Education, Economy, Ethics”) and authenticity. He seems to be a perfectly fine solution for America, with a doting wife (Vera Farmiga) and daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) by his side and a wonderful campaign team behind him.
But when the Miami Herald learns about a young, beautiful woman named Donna Rice, Hart’s extramarital affairs come to light and his perfect façade starts to crumble.
Where The Front Runner seems like a surefire concept (American politics, a sex scandal, the 80s), sadly it falls a bit flat in its delivery. Based on the expose All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai, the flick is remarkably unremarkable, despite a grand performance by leading man Jackman.
While it presents the audience with an interesting set up and throws them right into the action, the further we move along in the plot, the less interesting it seems to become. This is especially true once the accusations of infidelity begin.
The film does not give any indication of Rice’s intentions. Throughout the film she is presented as a capable and smart young woman, and it seems rather unreasonable that she would ask her friend to tip off the press, knowing the effect it would have on her privacy, her personal life, and her career. The allegations and the way the women go about reporting them to the press, as true to reality as those events may be, seem poorly fabricated and paint the women in an unnecessarily bad light.
All in all, the female characters in the movie leave a lot to be desired. We are faced with a tremendous Vera Farmiga, possibly the highlight of the movie, and Molly Ephraim as Irene, one of Hart’s brightest campaign advisors. It might seem like both characters have control over their own fate and are rather progressive women, but at no point in the film are they allowed any real power. Irene is unable to protect Donna from public scrutiny, and Lee is unable to defer the course of her husband’s public ordeal. The women try so hard to fight inequality, but their limited agency prevents them from achieving any real change. This shall not stand, not in 2018.
The one thing the film does get right is the question of morality and ethics. Hart doesn’t seem to see any fault in his behavior and refuses to share the truth with the public. But shouldn’t we hold those that aim to represent us, especially on such a level, to the highest standard? Shouldn’t the man wanting to represent a nation be an example of morality that others would want to follow? The problem wasn’t whether Hart led an untraditional life with an untraditional marriage, the problem was that he was untruthful, and refused to be held responsible for his actions.
The Front Runner feels more like an episode of a mediocre political television show. It is reminiscent of some lesser episodes of Scandal, but is lacking the fire and excitement that only Kerry Washington can bring to a DC drama to make it worth watching.
The Front Runner hits UK cinemas on January 25, 2019.