The Front Runner
★★☆☆☆ Dir Jason Reitman Starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxton Length 113 mins Cert 15
Is there any point in remembering Gary Hart? He was the Democrats’ plausible US presidential candidate in 1988, the front runner who abandoned his campaign after press allegations of an extramarital affair. Was he a lost prince of progressive American politics?
It’s not easy to tell from Jason Reitman’s evasive movie, starring Hugh Jackman in a hairpiece as Hart. The film contrives to show its hero as a tiresome and sanctimonious figure while piously averting its eyes from his misdemeanour, the one thing that makes Hart dramatically interesting – his supposed sexual encounter with would-be campaign worker Donna Rice. The movie shows Hart going to the party aboard the boat in Miami and meeting her, but solemnly declines to show her face or what precisely went on.
Eventually, after a solid hour, Donna (a forthright performance from Sara Paxton) is finally produced on camera, tearfully telling her story to Hart’s careworn spin doctors as the media storm breaks. It feels pointless and supercilious to have withheld her presence as if the movie itself has been forced to acknowledge her existence, just like Hart’s tense campaign team.
Jackman portrays Hart as an unrelaxed, unsmiling figure, without the charm or buoyancy of his other, recent performances. Vera Farmiga has the thankless and underwritten role of his loyal wife Lee, and JK Simmons plays his gruff campaign manager. Together, they all inhabit a world chock-full of mannerisms borrowed from Robert Altman’s Nashville and Alan J Pakula’s All The President’s Men, unconnected to any real dramatic energy or political point.