Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Front Runner ★★★★☆

Nowadays, we live in a world of tabloid gossip. It seems we cannot go anywhere without being bombarded with so-called ‘news’ about what some celebrity we’ve never heard of has said, done or worn at some unspecified gala. It’s become so common in our day-to-day life that we’re totally oblivious to it. We just take it for granted that a politician or actor or writer’s life is simply not private. But back in the late 1980s, when those tabloids got their claws into a presidential hopeful and turned the relationship between press and politics on its head, history was made. And the impact of this tale still reverberates today, as is evident in this engrossing and timely big-screen portrayal.

For those of you unfamiliar with the scandal at the heart of The Front Runner, the film begins as Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) becomes the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987. Hart's intelligence, charisma and idealism makes him popular with young voters, leaving him with a seemingly clear path to the White House. All that comes crashing down when allegations of an extramarital affair surface in the media, forcing the candidate to address a scandal that threatens to derail his campaign and personal life. What follows is a chaotic end to what could’ve been a very bright political future, with Hart now famously dubbed the finest president who never was. 

Based on the 2014 book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai, who co-wrote the screenplay, this is an absolutely fascinating snapshot of a history-making few days in US politics. In a world full of political mayhem, the story resonates incredibly well today – although if anything, makes me wish for a politician in the spotlight who, for a lack of a better way of putting it, only had an affair. Nowadays we have sexism, racism and homophobia in all walks of politics – at least Hart never got behind any of that! An affair I can deal with! But I digress…

The Front Runner is primarily a character study, so the performance at the centre of the film is key. Thankfully, director Jason Reitman has entrusted this big task to Hugh Jackman, who puts in an absolutely phenomenal and criminally overlooked performance that should’ve been the front runner for the Academy Award. Jackman is so incredibly engrossing and layered in the role of Hart, showing us his charismatic public life but also the incredible stress and chaos of the scandal. This is a performance that will surely go down as one of his finest, right up there with Logan and, sigh, The Greatest Showman. Jackman totally becomes Hart to the point that we totally forget we’re watching Wolverine on the campaign circuit. 

Co-stars include JK Simmons and Vera Farmiga who impress as always, but for me the sideshow highlight of the film was the one and only Bill Burr as sleazy journalist Pete Murphy who was instrumental in breaking the big story of Hart’s infidelities. For those of you unfamiliar with Burr’s comedy or podcast, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice and should remedy that unfamiliarity instantly. But for those of you with taste who are already fans, Burr is actually fantastic in this role and reminds viewers that he’s far more than just a foul-mouthed comic – he’s actually a bloody good actor, too.

The Front Runner may have been totally ignored by the masses and thrown under the bus by the awards circuit, but honestly, it’s one of the best films of the year. In any other universe, it would’ve been right up there in the Best Picture race and Hugh Jackman would’ve been a lock for Best Actor. But hey, we live in a world where Bohemian Rhapsody can win 4 Oscars so there is no fucking justice. This one is destined to be a hidden modern classic but for those of you who find it, you are in for a treat. A true masterpiece of the genre of political drama.

Sam Love

The Front Runner at CeX

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