The question of privacy is one posed many times by the film, but with Hart asking them, they lose all sense of focus

‘Are we going for Hart or are we going for The Herald?’ says one writer from The Washington Post about half way through The Front Runner. She is referring to the discussion they currently find themselves in, working out which side the group of journalists are actually on. The ambiguity of the events is fascinating, but all it really does is pose another, similar question: ‘Are you going for Hart or are you… not?’

Without, at any point, making it clear what stance The Front Runner is taking on the events it depicts, the film is left hanging as an on-the-fence look at the campaign leading up to the 1988 presidential election, when the once front runner, Gary Hart, is forced out of the race and into tense political scandal. Yet this isn’t just a sit on the fence job, this is a hopping back and forth over the fence, eventually landing on top of it as if that were a natural position to be in (the analogy has gone too far, but it makes the point well enough).

Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) after failing to win candidacy for the Democratic Party in the 1984 presidential election, becomes the front runner for not just the party but the presidency four years later. However, as Hart’s campaign begins to reach top speed, it’s stopped in its tracks by stories alleging extra-marital affairs that Hart believes the papers have no right to even begin discussing.

the front runner

Experienced director Jason Reitman has dealt with moral ambiguity on multiple occasions, none more so than in his 2009 success Up In The Air, which sets a precedent for The Front Runner, and one it absolutely does not equate to. Flicking from one moment to the next, the film wants you to sympathise with the man, as well as those questioning him and his actions. This confusion stops some of the more rooted themes from making any impact at all. The question of privacy is one posed many times by the film, but with Hart asking them, they lose all sense of focus.

This says nothing for Hugh Jackman who puts in a commanding and concentrated performance as Hart, but the stance emanating from the constant shift in morals stops almost all of the impact he has. The Front Runner’s questioning comes from all the wrong places, leaving it without a leg to stand on.

It’s an undeniably slick film, with a story line that details a rare fall from grace in a political world where spin can often save anybody from their actions. There’s a story to be told, but that doesn’t mean it’s been carried out in the correct manner. The Front Runner lacks decisiveness and clarity, with a concentration on the world’s reaction to Hart, rather than one of personal fear in the opposite direction.

3/5

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