The Front Runner: C+
Rated R, 105 minutes
“The Front Runner” tells the story of a failed presidential campaign sidelined by scandal. The campaign in question belonged to former Colorado Senator Gary Hart in 1988, who would become a historical footnote when he was forced to withdrawal after he had an affair. Entertaining, somewhat pertinent and well-acted, “The Front Runner” is still only a surface-level look at the the many issues it raises about journalism and politics.
“The Front Runner” chronicles the rise and fall of Senator Hart (Hugh Jackman), who captured the imagination of young voters and was considered the overwhelming front runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when his campaign was sidelined by the story of an extramarital relationship with model Donna Rice (played here by Sara Paxton).
"The Front Runner" is junior-league stuff compared to say "All the President's Men," but that doesn't mean it doesn't try. It's directed by "Tully's" Jason Reitman and co-written by Reitman, Matt Bai and Jay Carson and is bolstered by the superb turn from Jackman as Hart and another from Vera Farmiga as his shattered wife Lee, though it sheds little insight into the event itself. What's more, it brings up a lot of good questions about the role of journalism in politics (namely tabloid journalism) but does little to provide any real answers.
As a biographical look, it falters most. Even with that, Jackman's studied, pitch-perfect turn as Hart is the most memorable thing about "The Front Runner," though the script rarely delves into what a flawed character he was, other than he was a dashing, charming figure with Kennedy-esque overtones and who made some mistakes. It's slightly more compelling when it looks at journalism, but it only raises a bunch of questions without ever seriously examining them.
Jackman is well-supported by a large cast of characters, including Farmiga, J.K. Simmons as his campaign manager, Alfred Molina as Ben Bradlee (in an ironic "President's Men" connection, both Bradlee and Woodward, played by Spencer Garrett, appear briefly) and Kevin Pollack as a less-than-scrupulous newspaper editor.
There lies some serious questions, including moral ones about journalists digging into people's personal l lives and its relevance to a political campaign, but it becomes fuzzy when Reitman has Bradlee and Woodward appear, to remind us of their contributions to political history. "The Front Runner" is likable, bland and hardly fully realized. Much like Hart himself, who briefly skimmed the surface of greatness, the film does the same thing.