Telluride Review: ‘The Front Runner’ Doesn’t Live Up to Its Name

2018 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Jason Reitman tackles the 1988 tabloid scandal surrounding Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign with “The Front Runner.” Reitman has brought his film’s world premiere to Telluride, where he has long been a festival darling. Previous Reitman titles to play in the San Juan mountains include “Juno” (2007), “Up in the Air” (2009), and “Labor Day” (2013).

“The Front Runner” is based on the Matt Bai book, “All the Truth is Out,” and is adapted for the screen by Bai, Reitman, and Jay Carson. The film stars Hugh Jackman as the titular political figure whose optimistic ideals and methodical legislative agendas supersede his willingness to be a celebrity. The main supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga as Hart’s doleful and reticent wife, Lee, and J.K. Simmons as Bill Dixon, Hart’s frustrated campaign manager, who tries in vain to convince Hart to be more available to the increasing media-driven culture.

Hart tries to avoid allowing the media into his personal life, which is outside of his comfort zone. Instead, he consistently steers the conversation back towards what it is he came to accomplish: improving the country as it heads toward the 21st century.

Hart is a passionate idealist with a weakness for the opposite sex, something his wife has allowed him some freedom with until eventually he is caught in the act. In the span of just three weeks, Hart goes from being the favorite to win the presidency, to his career snowballing to its fateful end.

At its best, “The Front Runner” is snappy and quick-witted, with dialogue that keeps the pace moving as best as it can. The problem, however, is less with the screenplay, and more with the tedious direction that has often plagued a Jason Reitman film. Matters are made worse by the middling performances of Jackman and Farmiga, making the film, at times, a tough watch. It quickly becomes a flat, political procedural that feels much longer than its actual running time.

I wasn’t sure about Jackman’s casting heading into the film, and I’m left even more disappointed by the outcome. Having long been a big fan of the Australian actor, I had hoped this would be the vehicle that would land him his second Oscar nomination (“Les Miserables,” 2012). Sadly, I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

“The Front Runner” ends up left behind in the wake of “First Man,” which unfortunately for the former, had its world premiere immediately after the latter at the Werner Herzog theater on the first night of Telluride.

“The Front Runner” is distributed by Sony Pictures, and opens on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

GRADE: (★★½)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “The Front Runner” ranks among the contenders!