Game Change

Game Change is an HBO original film about Sarah Palin and the 2008 presidential election campaign. Jay Roach (Austin Powers?!?, Meet the Parents) directs Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain, Woody Harrelson as campaign senior strategist Steve Schmidt, and Barry Obama as himself.

Before I get started let me just say that I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t vote; I think it’s a hollow privilege. But I think politics are fascinating. This film feels like a documentary and you get an inside glimpse of the GOP and how modern campaigning works.

John McCain’s presidential campaign has hit a snag. Obama is just too popular. He is the man, he is a rock star. McCain brings in Steve Schmidt to get his campaign back on track. Steve figures the best way to do that is to find a charismatic running mate, a game changer. They eventually stumble upon an unknown governor from Alaska who just might be what they need. Sarah Palin gets thrust into the national spotlight, something that she was mentally, emotionally, and politically unprepared for.

Palin isn’t ready to be on the main stage. She has a concerning lack of simple US history, she doesn’t have any grasp of foreign policy. She thinks that Saddam Hussein attacked America on 9/11. She seems pretty damn stupid at times. But, man oh man, can she talk to people. She can relate to them. She is a rock star like Obama; she’s just in a shittier band.

Julianne Moore is Sarah Palin. It’s uncanny how well she portrays Palin. She captures her charisma when she delivers speeches, and humanizes her in private, intimate moments. You feel like you are watching home movies of her, and not some HBO flick produced by Tom Hanks. There’s one scene where Palin’s deployed son calls her from Iraq to wish her luck in a debate. After the brief conversation, tears well up in her eyes and Steve asks if she needs a moment. “My son is safe. My son is safe,” is her response. Politics are important to her, but family means everything.

Ed Harris does a great job as John McCain. He sort of acts as a wise grandfather figure. He worries about Palin’s emotional and stress levels, he cares about her. He recommends sending her to the desert so she can avoid a breakdown and have some time to relax. He also defends Obama from racist Republicans, saying he’s a decent family man. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of strategist Steve Schmidt is the glue that holds the movie together. His 60 Minutes interview bookends the film. He is given the impossible task of making McCain more popular than Obama and trying to control Palin.

This is an interesting movie showing the behind the scenes chaos of an historical election. You see how much help Palin needed to be presentable to the public. She is put under a microscope and almost has a nervous breakdown. She sits and stares blankly at the walls. She fights back tears as she sees Tina Fey’s scathing SNL impersonation of her. You feel bad for laughing at a real person. That’s what this movie did: it turned Sarah Palin into a real person. This is more than a good movie about politics; it’s just a good movie.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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