Austin Film Festival 2018 Review: THE FRONT RUNNER

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The 25th year of the Austin Film Festival concluded with this latest entry by respected writer/director Jason Reitman.  Given the current political climate of the U.S., it isn’t all that surprising that the filmmaker would take on a movie that examines the role of the media and its impact on politics.  Still, with all of the political fodder that permeates the country’s media, Reitman has chosen a political scandal of the past. In doing so, the talented filmmaker hopes to offer his audiences some food for thought regarding the role of the media in politics and the ever-changing standards with which people judge the integrity of their leaders.

Hugh Jackman stars as Senator Gary Hart, a one-time shoe in for the office of President.  After failing to attain the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, Hart was nearly guaranteed the nomination wben he ran again in 1988.  A media-fueled sex scandal, however derailed his campaign over the course of a few days.  This movie covers the events that lead to Hart’s withdrawal from the race, along with a revealing glimpse into the behind-the-scenes turmoil and the work of the press who helped derail one of the country’s most promising candidates.

Written by Matt Bai, Jason Reitman and Jay Carson, based on Bai’s book, All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, The Front Runner actually raises more questions than it answers, but in a a more thoughtful way.   Reitman’s film is intended to make people deeply ponder politics, politicians, and journalism in some profoundly philosophical ways.  That said, the film does fail to fully develop its lead character of Gary Hart making him a more enigmatic character than a relatable one.  It is difficult to truly connect with him on a more personal level when one doesn’t completely get to know his true side behind the scenes.  He is neither completely hateful or likable, but is merely there because that is just part of the facts. He merely comes across as a deer in headlights.

Still, I must say that Reitman and his crew do exceptional work in developing and presenting the work of the key players of journalism who broke the story that ended Hart’s presidential run.  Reitman, his cinematographer Eric Steelberg, editor Stefan Grube, and the sound department do a superb job of creating some truly outstanding sequences where the press and the campaign staff are working feverishly to deal with these new developments.  This lends the movie a sense of urgency, tension, and power.  This puts the audience deep in the middle of the chaos and circus that ensues once the scandal breaks.

Though the Gary Hart character does lack some proper development, actor Hugh Jackman does his best with the material and performs adequately nevertheless.  I was more impressed, however, with the performances of Vera Farmiga who portrays Hart’s wife Lee and Sara Paxton who portrays Donna Rice, the “other woman” caught up in the controversy.  The movie also features great acting by JK Simmons, Molly Ephraim, Alfred Molina, Mamadou Athie, and many more familiar faces.

And even though the material might seem all too familiar, Jason Reitman has made a movie that will make people examine and question the nature of politics, all of the major players, and why things occur as they do through different eras.  Not only does Reitman create a film that marvels as a technical piece of work, it offers an interesting glimpse at the American political machine at work, for better or worse.

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