Political Recall

The first of two American political dramas to hit screens this month – the second is Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney tale Vice – Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner takes audiences back to 1988. Those of a certain age will undoubtedly remember the story: married Colorado Senator Gary Hart (played perfectly by Hugh Jackman) is positioned as “the front runner” for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination for the upcoming race to the White House. Then The Miami Herald discovers that Hart was rumoured to be having an affair with the glamorous Donna Rice (Sara Paxton).

Marking Reitman’s second film inside a year, following his latest Diablo Cody collaboration Tully, The Front Runner’s remit can almost be summed up by its source. It comes adapted from Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. Co-scripted by Reitman, Bai and Jay Carson, it’s really less about politics and more about the media, on the cusp of the advent of 24/7 rolling news. Hart’s scandal was the first to truly get wall-to-wall coverage – a precursor to everything from Monica Lewinsky to Trump’s ‘Russian hotel’ episodes.

Reitman is said to have been influenced by Michael Ritchie’s 1972 Robert Redford-starrer The Candidate and there is undoubtedly a slavish devotion to the texture of the era. The newspaper offices are still all looking like they’re styled right out of the Seventies, and Reitman’s approach certainly seems born out of films from New Hollywood. Yet there’s no doubt The Front Runner, while it looks like a perfect artifact from a bygone era, feels utterly relevant to now.

As befits such a film – one that isn’t really a star vehicle for Jackman, who winds back his larger-than-life on-screen tendencies – Reitman populates the ensemble with some heavyweight co-stars. Vera Farmiga is Hart’s long-suffering wife Lee and Kaitlyn Dever (from Reitman’s Men, Women and Children) is his daughter Andrea. Meanwhile J.K. Simmons gives a typically ball-busting turn as his campaign manager while the ever-great Alfred Molina is Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (last played by Tom Hanks in The Post). It all results in an intriguing look at modern-day politics and the media.

James Mottram

The Front Runner opens on 11 January. For more details, click here.

1. Still from
The Front Runner.