Review: Hugh Jackman’s messy ‘Front Runner’ deserves a vote of no confidence

You’ve heard of an October surprise. This is a November disappointment.

Directed by Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air”), the electoral drama “The Front Runner” (★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters Tuesday in New York and Los Angeles; additional cities Nov. 16, opens nationwide Nov. 21) chronicles the downfall of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) over three publicly disastrous weeks in the spring of 1987.

The movie itself is an also-ran as well, a bargain-bin “All the President’s Men” mixed in with a cautionary tale for politicians in the #MeToo era. The muddied narrative unfolds from three different perspectives – that of Hart’s family, the campaign and the press – with so many different characters running around that you sometimes forget Jackman’s in the film. Even Aaron Sorkin would have a hard time juggling this cast.

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Hart first gets national recognition during the 1984 election cycle as a progressive guy with loads of idealism (“To change the world, young people need to give a damn,” he says), and three years later he’s seemingly the man to beat in ’88. With gruff Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) as his tireless campaign manager, Hart is a media darling and cover boy for People magazine, though he questions why the public needs to know that much about his personal life to vote for him. 

Of course, they’ll know way more than they’d ever expect when Hart, already rumored to be a womanizer, ends up on a boat in Miami called “Monkey Business” schmoozing model Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). Reitman and co-writers Matt Bai and Jay Carson never show anything untoward, leaving the viewers to make their own call about Hart’s character. Miami Herald journalist Tom Fiedler (Steve Zissis) is then tipped off about the hanky-panky and he’s part of a crew that stakes out Hart at his Washington home, confronting him on the street and publishing the story that puts his campaign in jeopardy.

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