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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) The Front Runner - Review

Similar in focus to both The Post and All The President's Men, The Front Runner arrives on the scene as a direct answer to the nightmare that is the Trumpian era, focusing on a democratic American senator named Gary Hart who was the clear front runner to be the Democratic nominee for president until a scandal ruined his entire campaign. With three weeks to go until the election the Miami Herald stumbles across a secret that gets thrust into public life, and Hart goes from the offensive to the defensive.

It's an interesting film, shot to look like a documentary with its grainy footage that worked really well on one of the biggest screens in the United Kingdom to emphasise its old-school feel, giving it an in-depth look into the elections of 1988 and making it seem very realistic and era appropriate. Whilst the film may play it a bit too safe in its approach and rarely takes risks, it juggles an ensemble cast well benefiting from the incredibly charismatic Hugh Jackman in the lead role. It's hard not to fault the energy that he brings to the table in this film, commanding every scene that he's in. It's someone who makes perfect sense to play a figure like Gary Hart, and Juno director Jason Reitman relishes in never taking the spotlight away from him.

The Front Runner looks at how the fallout from the scandal ruined his presidential chances, examining to what extent should the press have access to the presidential candidates. There's a stark warning that comes towards the end of the film that it tries to convey in that the best people for the presidential office aren't running for it because of the media circuit and we're left with what's left, and The Front Runner believes that it's a worrying sign for the country when that happens. But is that the press's fault, the film attempts to argue? Or is it the public's fault for wanting to find out everything about the presidential candidates, and the press are just giving them what the public want? It's an interesting idea that the script brings to the table, but it's all about the concept as the execution is rather sub-par and it feels incredibly underwhelming in how it plays out.

The film is stylish, with a nice, fast moving soundtrack from Rob Simonsen, but there just isn't enough to really keep the audiences engrossed in the film. The attempt at what Reitman was trying to do is clearly something to be admired, but ultimately The Front Runner, for all its polish, lacks any real depth. Everything just comes over as hollow, even if the cynical look at the transformation of the media into what it is today is felt.

The secondary cast is full of big names but the real standout is J.K. Simmons, who brings a nonchalant attitude to the table that makes him a perfect character to play his role, Bill Dixon. Vera Farmiga, who plays Hart's wife, is good, and Kaitlyn Dever also impressed. Although the attention is largely on Hart, the film does a verey good job with most of the ensemble characters.

It's also interesting to see that when The Front Runner comes out in the United States it will be November 6, aka election day for midterms (remember to vote if you're reading this and you're American!). Given how cynical The Front Runner is with its depiction of American media, it's hard not to take a cynical view of this in turn and see that it's nothing more than just a cash grab from Sony, especially when the UK release date is January 25 and the US release date was changed with the elections in mind. But at the end of the day, it's safe to say that The Front Runner isn't necessarily a bad film. It's just that it doesn't do much to set itself apart from the rest of the pack either, and when stacked up against other films of its ilk, it can't help but feel under-baked in comparison, never truly overcoming its more than shaky start.

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