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film review

Hugh Jackman plays the film's subject Gary Hart in Jason Reitman-directed, The Front Runner.Courtesy of Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures

The Front Runner

Directed by: Jason Reitman

Written by: Matt Bai, Jay Carson and Jason Reitman

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons

Classification: 14A; 113 minutes


2 out of 4 stars

It takes a lot of chutzpah to name your big awards-season prestige drama The Front Runner, but just like this film’s subject, Gary Hart, director Jason Reitman might find himself on the wrong side of hubris as the year stretches on.

This Robert Altman-esque drama about the rise and fast fall of the 1988 presidential hopeful has a lot on its mind – morality in public office, the state of journalism, the paradoxical nature of running a political campaign based on lies – but spends too little energy examining those thoughts. Instead, we’re treated to a parade of wonderful character actors (J.K. Simmons, Toby Huss, Kevin Pollak) making witty proclamations that then immediately dissipate into the atmosphere.

While it’s obvious that Reitman wanted the film’s focus to be on Hart’s doomed campaign rather than on the man himself (played here by Hugh Jackman), the decision positions the politician as a cipher, leaving audiences little reason to care about his plight (which boils down to the fact that he can’t keep it in his pants).

The movie – about the rise and fast fall of the 1988 presidential hopeful – has a lot on its mind but spends too little energy examining those thoughts.Frank Masi SMPSP/Columbia Pictures

At least Vera Farmiga is on hand to provide a somewhat-sketched-out female voice, playing Hart’s wife, Lee, with a distrust and sense of shame that’s cutting. No such insight can be found from Reitman and Co. in their treatment of, say, any of the Hart campaign’s female staffers, and least of all Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), whose affair with Hart became the focal point of the day’s news cycle. To The Front Runner, she’s just someone who kind of gets in the way of things.

Reitman keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, perhaps hoping that speed equals wit, but it's quickly evident he's falling far behind the pack.

The Front Runner opens Nov. 16 in Toronto and Vancouver