Netflix UK film review: The Front Runner
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2019
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Kaithlyn Dever
Watch The Front Runner online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Recent years may have raised the bar somewhat, but politics has always been an unpredictable game. Take Gary Hart, who was leading the US Presidential race in 1988. Three weeks into his campaign, though, the whole thing went off the rails. The Front Runner looks back at what went wrong.
In short, Gary’s extramarital affairs came to light in the press. Hugh Jackman plays the man in question with a noble streak and a righteous conviction, one that prompts him to criticise the media for its focus on his private life over his policies. While this sounds like a male-centric story of thwarted ambition, though, The Front Runner fortunately takes a smarter tact, as director Jason Reitman slowly zooms out from his handsome Democrat candidate to shine a light on all those around him.
That’s chiefly his wife and daughter (a superb Vera Farmiga and Kaithlyn Dever), but there’s notably substantial time for Sara Paxton as Donna Rice, the woman with whom he was having an affair. She finds herself, like everyone else, sucked into a whirlwind of press scrutiny, no matter how much Hart’s campaign team (including excellent turns by Molly Ephraim, JK Simmons and Oliver Cooper) try to control the flurry of news reporters and pap photographers. There’s room here to question Hart’s behaviour and male sense of entitlement, but also question the behaviour of the press, as tabloid headlines prioritise gossip over government policies. Who’s in the wrong? Both of them are, and The Front Runner tries to widen its scope and acknowledge that.
But if its attempts to explore the complexities of the situation are commendable, they’re not hugely successful; Reitman’s misguided script, which tries to tell two stories at once, sacrifices pace and clarity the longer it goes on. Perhaps it would play better in a different political climate, or with a cleaner example of the sensationalist media without a dubious male figure at the story’s heart. Reitman’s storytelling, though, has lost none of its style, and The Front Runner is powered by an excellent soundtrack, which shifts from coordinated marching drum snares to offbeat, syncopated rhythms and claps, as applause and pageantry slip into self-inflicted disarray.
The Front Runner is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.