“…started off fairly strong but fell flat on its face towards the end, ironically mimicking the political career of Gary Hart.”
Politics is probably one of the best topics for a movie. Tackling the bureaucracy as well as the manner in which adults turn back into children is full of opportunities for quick, biting commentary as well as a lot of laughs. Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, which chronicles the story of presidential hopeful Gary Hart and his fall from grace, starts off with this philosophy but quickly transitions into something else.
I had pretty high hopes for The Front Runner simply because of my past experiences with political films that were similar in tone. The Front Runner offers up a story that is very low-stakes which allows for the writing to take content jabs at the entire political process as it stands. The wit in The Front Runner is palpable, every time a character opens their mouth you can expect a laugh. The comedy is accessible with complex topics being boiled down to their basic components so everyone can understand them, but it still manages to keep the heart of the story.
We are introduced to these amazing characters played by quite a few notable actors who sling insults and one-liners at a pace that was close to making my head spin. The standout in my opinion was J.K. Simmons who played the campaign manager Bill (not “Billy”, he’s not a five year-old). Simmons’ “I don’t give a fuck” attitude made him a perfect fit for the role of this ‘no bullshit’ individual, and it also made me realize how much I would love to see him play Hunter S. Thompson. But while I was basking in these comedic moments and thoroughly enjoying myself I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of all of it was. This is the main issue I had with The Front Runner.
The Front Runner tries its best to tackle as many issues as it can. We first see it take down politics, highflying the petulance and ignorance of many political people; but then the focus changes. When we are introduced to the main complication of the film, Gary Hart’s affair, it kind of shifts gears to become about ethics in journalism. This is fine, and there is actually a really well-done speech done by one of the reporters about the subject, but not long after we see another change. Now instead of journalistic ethics we have The Front Runner trying to talk about the commercialization of politics. These are all great topics, but when your movie is just shy of two hours you should really pick one to discuss.
What made me most angry with The Front Runner was not the message that could barely be pinned down, but instead the drastic shift in tone that we see in the film. Like I said, The Front Runner is a movie with very low-stakes. The movie understands this and then plays with it in the beginning. But then it decides to alter its path and take the movie in a very dark and dramatic direction.
This would be fine if the stakes had been raised, but they weren’t. This meant that all of the flaws of The Front Runner were able to bubble to the surface because I didn’t have any comedy to distract me. The conversation changes a bit when you look at The Front Runner as a commentary of the state of politics today using the past as a mirror, but without that lens it’s a pretty dull affair.
Overall The Front Runner started off fairly strong but fell flat on its face towards the end, ironically mimicking the political career of Gary Hart.
I give The Front Runner a B