Hugh Jackman in THE FRONT RUNNER

Jason Reitman’s THE FRONT RUNNER boasts all the ingredients you need from a pulsing political drama but ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers

In today’s modern age, a sex scandal involving a politician seems so common that it hardly makes front page news. Back in the 1980s however, it was a different story. Not because the politicians weren’t having extramarital affairs, but because the media never reported them… or at least they didn’t until U.S. Senator Gary Hart.

Based on Matt Bai’s exposé ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT, THE FRONT RUNNER follows three extraordinary weeks in American politics. Back in 1988, Democratic candidate Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) was the front runner for the Presidency of the United States. Handsome, charismatic and whip-smart, he led George W Bush in the polls by double digits and America loved him. But in just three weeks, Hart lost it all when the Miami Herald exposed his extramarital affair with beautiful blond Donna Rice, marking a turning point in the media.

On paper, Jason Reitman’s film boasts all the ingredients you need from a pulsing political drama – a scandalous sex story, a whip-smart script and a cracking all-star cast. Following the action from Hart’s frenzied campaign headquarters to the tense newsroom meetings at the Miami Herald and the Washington Post, the director adopts a similar style to Michael Ritchie’s THE CANDIDATE by telling the story from several points of view. Reitman, Bai and Jay Carson’s script is snappy, funny and full of acerbic wit, while the high-energy choreographed scenes of chaos are directed with finesse.

Charismatic, charming and likable, Jackman has the looks and gravitas to carry off Hart, the senator who can turn on the charm when he wants to but also snap at the tiniest of things. Elsewhere, Vera Farmiga is strong as Hart’s resigned yet smouldering wife Lee, even if she is somewhat underused, while J.K. Simmons delivers a standout performance as Hart’s gruff campaign manager Bill Dixon.

Shame then that THE FRONT RUNNER ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers. Just like Hart’s presidential campaign, Reitman’s film seems to fizzle out just when it’s just getting started, never really coming to any conclusion about the fairness of what happened to Hart or even how it impacted politics to come. The film tries too hard to tell every side to the story that it neglects to truly analyse the issues that it raises. Instead of focusing on the viewpoint of Hart, his wife, his advisers or even the journalists involved, Reitman goes for the all-of-the-above approach, resulting in a muddled drama that has too much to say and is too broad to ever make an impact.

That said, there is plenty to like here, most notably its pace, which moves at the speed of a presidential campaign, to keep the tension high and the drama enjoyable. Despite its flaws, THE FRONT RUNNER marks a strong return to form for Reitman who, for the most parts, makes the most of its crackerjack script and dynamite performances.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THE FRONT RUNNER screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 14 October 2018.