Movie review: Jackman can't lift shaky 'Front Runner'

Hugh Jackman is Gary Hart in this look at the 1988 Presidential campaign and the moment the news cycle went tabloid

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

The spectacular flameout of Gary Hart's 1988 presidential bid is used as a lens to investigate the moment when political journalism went full lascivious tabloid in "The Front Runner," a would-be Oscar contender with a point of view that is never quite clear.  

Hugh Jackman in "The Front Runner."

The set-up is rich: Hart (Hugh Jackman), after taking a loss in 1984, is set to earn the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. He's handsome and suave and he's got the goods to go all the way and handily beat George Bush. Just ask his campaign manager, Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons, on fire), who refers to Hart as "the next (bleeping) President of the United (bleeping) States." 

His campaign is derailed, however, when Miami Herald reporter Tom Fielder (Steve Zissis) receives a tip about Hart's infidelity. After staking out his town house, Fielder accosts Hart in an alley behind his home and runs with the story, and other papers follow suit. 

But should they? Hart certainly doesn't think so; the campaign should be about the issues, he argues, not a little extramarital affair. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks played him in "The Post," here he's played by Alfred Molina) waxes nostalgic about the days when reporters would turn a blind eye to politicians' infidelities. But if the Post ignores the story, they'll lose readers to other papers who chase it, so they go with it, the story picks up steam and the snake eats itself.

The parallels to today are obvious, but director Jason Reitman's perspective isn't. He's not championing the coverage, or the Us Weekly-ization of the news cycle (the film makes an anachronistic reference to the magazine; Us didn't turn into a weekly until 2000), but he's naive if he thinks the story isn't legitimate. And Reitman's not naive.

There's an argument in the film about what is interesting and what is important, and how the two should be weighed. In that spirit, "The Front Runner" is interesting, but it's not weighty or assured enough to be important.


'The Front Runner'


Rated R for language including some sexual references

Running time: 113 minutes