By Jack Dignan
At the post-film Q&A director Jason Reitman, releasing his second film this year after the critically acclaimed Tully, stated that he wished to make a movie people would debate over. In the ever-changing political environment we live in, where the sanctity of the newsroom continues to hold further prevalence over the opinions of the general public, along comes a movie that does just that. It’s a film less about a political campaign gone wrong and more about the journalistic integrity of those hungry for a story, and Reitman’s attempts at stirring debate will no doubt come to fruition.
This film’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s one that, ever since seeing it a couple of weeks ago, has really resonated with me. Everyone’s favourite Australian Hugh Jackman plays Senator Gary Hart. Back in 1988 he was the front-runner for the presidential campaign heading into the final three weeks pre-election. But, as the opening title card states, a lot can happen in three weeks, and before he realises anything has happened, his whole campaign comes crumbling to the ground when he’s caught in a scandalous love affair with a younger woman.
It’s a film that tackles the scrutiny of public life head on, dealing with social and political issues that have never been more relevant, even thirty years on from when the actual events took place. One of the reservations I had about this film going in was its potential relation and confrontation of women standing up against their attackers in the #MeToo era. A single report can destroy a person’s career, which I obviously don’t have to defend as being a very powerful and important thing, but this film could’ve easily shut that all down and questioned the nature of this movement, stirring great controversy and much uproar.
Thankfully, it doesn’t. The Front Runner doesn’t attack or confront the nature of sex scandals and harassment from prevalent figures, which ultimately leads to their downfall. It doesn’t forgive the attacker’s actions or question the accuser’s validity. Its focus is shifted more towards the nature of the newsroom and journalist integrity. It’s less about sexual harassment (although adultery is a very strong theme) and more about abusive journalism. Reitman dares to question whether we choose to believe what’s reported on television or what the people in question are truly going through, all building towards a remarkable final shot that raises its central theme – can you choose to forgive?
Forgiving Gary Hart is no easy task, even if the film seems insistent on doing just that, but the best part of this movie is that you, at the end of the day, get to make up your own mind. You can take away from this movie what you choose to believe, and no matter which way you swing, Reitman’s done his job to great success. The political sex scandal elements could’ve been delved into a little more, which would’ve added an extra layer of timeliness, especially with a president who’s openly admitted to sexual harassment and yet remains in power (although an issue like that is hard to address in a film that doesn’t so much as implicate harassment), but the narrative works wonders when dealing with the heated landscape of competing journalists and invasive privacy.
If the leading actor field weren’t so crowded already, Jackman’s performance would be an unquestionable front runner for this year’s award season, as he delves deep into a fast-talking, ever evolving screenplay by Matt Bai, Jay Carson and Reitman himself. There’s no question about the impressiveness of a film like this, and its relevance to us as a society, but its devise approach to the narrative may mean it gets lost in public eye, something I pray doesn’t happen. This is a really great movie. If we can get The Post nominated for a bunch of Oscars, surely we can campaign the hell out of The Front Runner too.
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