TIFF Review: ‘THE FRONT RUNNER’ is Hugh Jackman like you’ve never seen him before

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

THE FRONT RUNNER

Rated R, 113 minutes.
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Hugh JackmanVera FarmigaKaitlyn DeverSara PaxtonMolly EphraimCourtney FordAri GraynorAlfred MolinaBill BurrKevin PollakMike Judge and J.K. Simmons

Following TULLY, THE FRONT RUNNER marks director Jason Reitman’s second feature this year. It’s an often witty look at a presidential campaign gone completely wrong. While it has a crowd-pleasing first half, the political satire has a difficult time overcoming its plotting and sadly forgets to delve deeper in its moral convictions.

In the film, we find Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) entering the 1988 Presidential Election as, you guessed it, the front runner. He’s a likable guy who’s devoted to his family. He can be a magnet for charisma any room he enters and is poised to lead the resurgence of the waning Democratic party. The problem is he can’t keep his zipper closed. Despite seemingly being in love with his wife, Lee (Vera Farmiga), Hart flirts and makes shady phone calls in plain sight. It’s not until an affair of Hart’s gets leaked by a team of journalists does he start to pay attention to who’s really watching. Hart is a man that believes public figures lives should have some privacy, and he spends the entire film attempting to argue that point.

The film doesn’t use Hart’s perspective to tell the story, he is on the sidelines as we see the disgraced senator through the eyes of journalists, campaign managers and Hart’s family. This is Hugh Jackman like you have never seen him before, playing the confident idiot. He’s constantly baffled when he’s accosted by reporters and outraged that anybody but his mistress would be interested in his infidelity. How Jackman handles these scenarios is constantly surprising.

Reitman spends a good chunk of the film’s second act grappling with the morality of journalists investigating the private lives of politicians. A pair of reporters played by Steve Zissis and Mamoudou Athie (who steals the show from the long list of supporting players) are compared to the National Enquirer and called frauds. This is a movie made for the people, but the question is: will they listen?

Part whip-smart political satire and part journalistic procedural, THE FRONT RUNNER spends its time cleverly discussing the moral responsibilities to those in power. However, for a zany story about a shamed public figure, Reitman’s tonal shifts suck all the fun out of the frame. Reitman is a filmmaker who keeps evolving, even if the results may vary.

[Grade: B]

THE FRONT RUNNER premiered on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. The Toronto International Film Festival will have encore screenings on 9/8, 9/9, 9/13 (P&I screening only), 9/14 and 9/15. Visit tiff.net for more details on the showtimes. THE FRONT RUNNER will release on Nov. 21, 2018 through Sony Pictures Entertainment.