Jason Reitman opens The Front Runner with a long, unbroken shot set to “Unsquare Dance” — easily one of the most overused tracks in cinema. The camera weaves up and down, in and out of a broadcast van, through the crowd at a political rally, and finally ends at a high-up window overlooking the entire scene. I couldn’t tell you why. The shot reveals nothing and covers about 30 square feet. The film is full of these types of flourishes that, without fail, left me scratching my head every time. Another sequence blasts Boston’s “Long Time” over the dialogue for no reason. Later, a pivotal moment plays entirely on the back of Hugh Jackman’s head. It all seemed so confusing until, after two hours, I finally figured out what Reitman was actually up to.
An onscreen title reads “A lot can happen in three weeks,” a line that sent me on an emotional roller coaster during which I found the phrase amateurish (it belongs on the poster, at best), then obnoxious, then finally hilarious. Because, as even the film admits, exactly one thing happens during those three weeks. And it takes an entire hour of run time before that relative nonevent even comes up, at which point it’s not clear whether anything just happened at all. The film is dealing with a massive black hole where its plot should be, and so Reitman just tosses in a few weird De Palma and Scorsese camera tricks to keep himself interested. Much like this year’s Chappaquiddick, it’s a would-be true-life political allegory with no point to make or even any side to take. It’s just a rundown of some things that either did or didn’t happen and that ultimately had zero effect on political history that ends with a guy not becoming president. Which, by the way, is exactly what the biopic about my own life will also be about.
I was only 8 years old when all of this went down in the real world, mostly aware of Gary Hart as a punchline. He was the guy who wasn’t Walter Mondale (who, in turn, was the guy who didn’t become president). But I had no real awareness of why he was important or what his story was all about. The Front Runner doesn’t know either. Hart is accused of having an affair, but there’s no concrete evidence, he stonewalls the press into submission and really only concedes the race because this whole media circus is embarrassing for his wife. It’s a movie about a bunch of dopes fumbling around in the dark for an answer to a question they aren’t even sure is relevant.
Is the point that the Democrats once had a shot at a great candidate but people cared more about his personal life than his campaign policies? That seems like what it’s supposed to be about, but the movie seriously gives nothing away. And I feel as if I’m missing something huge here because this seems like a disastrous side to take given our current situation. Why even bother, when the country is so apocalyptically divided down a strict political line, to make a movie like this? Reitman is spineless, his movie is a boring slog, and he should stick to directing Diablo Cody dioramas. What a bummer. Rated R for language including some sexual references.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark.