My review copy of Game Change arrived with a cover letter – apparently “several Palin aides” had already been trying to discredit it. HBO Films wanted reviewers to know that they stand by their research, and by that that went into the dishy book of the same name by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
Sarah Palin does seem to get blamed for every dishonorable thing that comes out of the 2008 GOP presidential campaign – such as throwing the read meat of socialism/terrorism/foreignness to the Republican base – while John McCain seems to always stay noble. You could see where she and her team might beg to differ with that assessment.
That said, I think the Palin cronies are foolish to object to the film overall. This is the most sympathetic Palin has seemed since the first revelations of shoe shopping hit her.
Game Change covers Palin’s rise and fall as McCain’s vice presidential nominee. It starts with exactly the cold political analysis you hope doesn’t go into political campaigns, with the McCain team realizing that they’re behind with women and deciding that the solution is to put a woman on the team instead of, say, listening to female voters and trying to figure out what they want.
Palin’s selection is presented as something between hasty analysis and a gut decision, and the rest of the fun is in watching the McCain team realize the enormity of what they’re dealing with.
Palin is shown displaying an eerie certainty that that her nomination is “God’s plan,” thinking the Queen runs England, and knowing nothing about economics or even junior high-school level history. On the other hand, her shrewdness comes through too – as the campaign flounders, Palin knows she’s the one bringing in donations and demands more autonomy.
And, even though she is portrayed as mercurial, demanding, and even willfully ignorant, Julianne Moore makes Palin seem much more human and reasonable than the actual Sarah Palin manages to do. Moore shows Palin’s quiet panic as she realizes how much she has to learn, and the pain of watching television pundits tear apart her weak performances. There’s even a moment when the camera pans from one of Tina Fey’s devastatingly funny SNL sketches to Palin’s face as she watches, a public figure, yes, but also a real person who’s hurt by it.
Moore gives a layered and very believable performance as Palin. She misses the wild she-might-do-anything gleam that Palin gets in her eye when she’s excited, but otherwise nails her – getting the perfect blend of pretty-girl confidence and in-over-her-head paranoia.
Ed Harris plays Senator John McCain as a warrior who’s beginning to figure out he’s hit his decline. The film really hangs on Moore and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, McCain’s senior campaign strategist. One of the biggest moments of the movie is Schmidt realizing that Palin vast ignorance could take down the whole campaign. It’s only as an afterthought, much later that he realizes she could take down the country.
photo credit: Philip V. Caruso/HBO
Even if you were glued to the news during the campaign – and maybe especially if you were – Game Change will be an interesting take. And it will definitely make you wonder what would have happened if they had won.
Game Change premieres Saturday, March 10 at 9:00 (ET/PT) on HBO.