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There will be a lot of people who see "Game Change" and will absolutely
hate it. No doubt, Sarah Palin, if she chooses to watch it, will
probably be one of those people. I can't imagine a Democrat hating the
movie. Either way, you can't talk about "Game Change" without feeling
the bottoms of your shoes slightly thump against a soap box.
I personally don't know how accurate "Game Change" is. The film is based upon one-third of the 2010 bestseller of the same name by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Their book, detailing the entire 2008 Presidential election and allegations thereof in both parties, had been criticized for relying on too many anonymous sources and lacking explicit sourcing.
This movie, written by Danny Strong and directed by Jay Roach, takes the most intriguing segment of the 2008 election, namely the nomination and introduction of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and lets the ridiculousness of the events surrounding her expose itself.
Like "Recount" (2008), the previous collaboration between Roach and Strong, what is most astounding about this movie is not the events in it, but that we actually lived through them not too long ago. To paraphrase Hannibal Lector, anyone labeling this movie as exploitation only needs to see the barrage of CNN and Fox News footage in this film to remind themselves that the past is real.
"Recount" told the story of the chaotic 2000 election returns, and how little Al Gore and George W. Bush actually had to do with the transpired events, contrary to popular opinion. "Game Change" shows the interactions between those in and out of the spotlight, and how candidates in an election can be the cause of their own undoing.
The film centers around Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), Senator John McCain's chief political adviser during his 2008 campaign for President. After winning the Republican nomination despite being last in the polls in 2007, McCain (Ed Harris) finds himself relying on Schmidt and other political advisers to find a V.P. candidate. Behind in the polls against Senator Barack Obama, he agrees to choose a female running mate to put him at an advantage against the first African-American nominee for President.
National Campaign Manager Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) does his homework on a viable female candidate via a YouTube search in the only really inconsistent part of the film. You see him watch videos of female Republican politicians ranging from then-Hawaiian Governor Linda Lingle to Maine Senator Susan Collins. What you don't see clearly is Davis' rationale behind not choosing one of these women. Why would Senator Collins not be a better choice than Sarah Palin? Of course, being originally from Maine, I am biased.
What you learn from this movie is that while the Republican strategists did some homework on the then-Alaska Governor, they should have done more. This fact becomes apparent when Governor Palin (Julianne Moore) does not know, among other things, that the British Prime Minister is the head of government in Great Britain, not the Queen of England.
In what could have been a farcical portrayal of a politician of whom it's easy to make fun, Julianne Moore is astonishingly great as Sarah Palin. Like Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Kevorkian in "You Don't Know Jack" (2010), Moore is so believable as Palin that you would swear Palin was playing herself.
More than having the "You betcha!" accent down pat, Moore never has one wavering moment where you think you're watching the same actress from "Boogie Nights" (1997) or "The Kids Are All Right" (2010). She nails every aspect about Palin from her firm belief in her politics, her reactions to the press, her ill preparation for the notorious Katie Couric interview, and her butting heads with political advisers. It's all completely believable.
While there was less pressure on Harrelson to play a public figure, he also did a great job as an adviser whose recommendation to nominate Palin truly seemed like a good idea at the time. Harrelson's Schmidt more or less regrets his decision to convince McCain, only to try to make the best of it later on.
Also equally effective is Sarah Paulson, who plays senior adviser Nicholle Wallace. In the scenes where she tries in vain to help Palin properly prepare for the Katie Couric interview, it's like watching an A-student try to get a D-student to study for a final exam. Considering how the real Palin bombed that interview, that scene could not have been far from the truth. Paulson really reflects Wallace's frustration well, and is believably too tired in the end to say she told her so.
Ed Harris, while not doing a dead-on imitation of John McCain, effectively reflects the frustration and regret McCain must have felt after choosing Palin as a running mate. McCain may have been capable of dealing with the failing economy and foreign relations, but Palin clearly was not.
While Palin may not have been the sole contributor to McCain's defeat, she undoubtedly threw an anchor off the side of the Straight Talk Express. In the end, Harrelson, as Schmidt, probably would not answer "no" to Anderson Cooper's question of whether he regretted putting Palin on the ticket. His actions and reactions throughout the movie answer that question already.
This film is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the most failed
act of political cynicism in recent American history: the selection of
Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate for his 2008 presidential
campaign. We are introduced to a candidate, John McCain, and a
campaign, lead by Steve Schmidt, that is on it's knees. They are
desperate and in need of a break, and they throw a Hail Mary pass to
Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin. But she is only the first in a series of
Hail Mary passes to come. Woody Harillson gives perhaps his best
performance ever as Steve Schmidt, a man who is rearranging the deck
chairs on this flailing campaign, as fast as he can, before it
disappears below the surface. Ed Harris turns in his usual masterful
interpretation of a complicated-underneath, but simple-on-the-surface,
character, as John McCain. But it is Julianne Moore that is the steel
girder of this narrative. She is the embodiment of what we now know to
be the Palin phenomenon with all of it's cartoonish qualities and, by
equal measures it's dire, and potentially catastrophic, possibilities.
Moore delivers, subtly, the Palin we all know, overflowing with
unfounded, unearned, unqualified, confidence.
The script is very well written and the pace of the story is exact. The final tableau of Sarah Palin standing on stage with McCain at his concession speech, hearing the crowd swell with the mention of her name, was reminiscent of Glenn Close gasping for air as she rose from the bathtub in the final scene of "Fatal Attraction". As Palin winks her cash-register-eyes you can almost see dollar signs in her pupils, and hear a "ka-ching" sound foreshadow the future. It will send a chill up your spine.
My only complaint about this film has nothing to do with its production values. It's a great film and will be well rewarded, deservedly, when the Emmys are handed out. My complaint about this film has to do with its politics. Sarah Palin was MUCH worse than she was portrayed in this film. Forget "anonymous" sources. Just look at the public record. The writers, in an attempt to appear "fair", intentionally leave out the most egregious information gaffs in both the Gibson and Couric interviews. No one can forget the moment when Charles Gibson asked Sarah Palin about the "Bush Doctrine" and she had no idea what he was talking about. Or when Katie Couric asked her if she could recall "one Supreme Court decision" with which she disagreed (Roe v. Wade!!!) and she couldn't name one. Those were iconic moments in this chilling brush with cataclysm. But their omission was not the worst offense done by the editing that no doubt softened Palin's image. The worst was how her gaffs WERE introduced to the film viewer. One of them is parroted to us through the infamous SNL skit with Tina Fey, on a hotel television, as a cringing Sarah Palin watches. This omission from the direct storyline (as it really occurred), and indirect delivery through the "liberal" media (SNL) made Palin look less clueless than she actually was. And made the "lame stream media" look predatory and cruel. They were not. Result: undeserved sympathy for the central character, Sarah Palin.
Sadly, this is what HBO does. They play things down the middle even when the facts have clearly crossed over the median and are speeding the wrong way into oncoming traffic. When "what do you read" is considered "gotcha", we're way out of balance. And HBO manufacturing an artificial balance where there was none before? Not good. There are not always two equal sides to a story. HBO's dilution of the real story as it unfolded, in an attempt to seem "unbiased", does a disservice to this otherwise brilliant film, and to history.
Game Change shows us the worst in political gamesmanship - the unbridled cynicism that lead an all male campaign staff to choose a political bimbo to be "a seventy-two year old heartbeat away from the presidency". And it shows us the worst in American political celebrity in the form of Sarah Palin with all of her race baiting and blind religious ideology that substitute for facts in her view of the world. She is oblivious to the geo-political winds that howl around this planet. Yet she would not hesitate to invade Iraq all over again because "Saddam Hussein attacked us on 911". Yes, seven years after 911 she was still unaware that that was a lie because her faith and her convictions substituted for the facts. This, I think more than anything, is what this story comes down to. The world is complicated and dangerous and the levers of power should not be in the hands of someone who is uninformed, reckless, and misguided. The stakes are simply too high.
Excellent movie! Reminds me that Sarah Palin was not anywhere near ready to be picked for Vice President. Movie does make you feel sorry for Palin. But, than again thinking more about what has happened since the 2008 election and NOT feeling sorry for her. If she were anything like the "victim" then she would NOT keep trying to be in the national public eye. I sure hope she finally realizes she will NEVER be a national political figure. Anything else is just a scary thought. Julianne Moore did an excellent job playing Sarah Palin and she got it right in saying this movie shows what's wrong with our democracy. When someone like John McCain can pick a Vice President candidate purely for political purposes KNOWing she was NOT fit to be President (which IS the primary job of a Vice President), then you know this is a problem for our country.
Amazingly good solid film. Julianne Moore is brilliant as Sarah Palin,
and the rest of the cast - equally wonderful! The script is solid too,
and keeps your interest, even if you remember every nuance of the
Presidential race and the story we lived through. I don't want to say
too much about the actual production, because it is so well done,
mixing reportage with the actors. Mixing journalists with the actors.
It really is great. Congratulations to everyone at HBO and I really really really hope the film will be released in theatres around the country. It deserves the widest possible audience as possible.
I don't think it matters if you are Republican or Democrat, who you voted for or didn't vote either. The film is good, fair, interesting and well done.
Without a doubt, Moore will get an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of
Sarah Palin.......a portrayal that, for the first time, gave me an
understanding of Palin and a real sympathy for her. It showed a
confident, charismatic, but essentially superficial person used to
swimming in the shallows. It was also a Sarah Palin who was a mother
with a new baby, a son going off to Iraq, and a close-knit, loving
family who was suddenly taken away from that family and was thrust into
the meat-grinder of national politics. Instead of being able to
transcend herself and grow from the experience, we see a Palin who
instead wraps herself up even more into being just who she is and finds
a demographic of fellow shallows swimmers who love her just the way she
is. Unfortunate, but after seeing this movie you could understand how
Harris as McCain portrays a rather idealized statesman, one trying to take the high road. There's no mention of McCain's volatile and explosive temper. Instead we're presented with an understanding, but aloof man at odds with the direction his party is going in. Again a sympathetic portrayal.
The final portrayals are of the political operatives in the McCain campaign. As you can understand the way Palin's personality begins to fracture under the pressure, you can also understand the operatives incredible frustration in trying to deal with it. You can understand when one operative, Wallace, finally just refuses to work with Palin anymore. You can understand the frustration of people who have spent their lives being informed try to deal with a Palin who lacks the most basic knowledge of history, world affairs or even how the federal government works. The tutoring sessions remind you of high school brains who've been pressured by the principal into tutoring the well-meaning, but thick-as-a-plank star quarterback so he can play in the finals. The room is thick with frustration on both sides.
This is a movie with no villains in the cast. If there is a villain here, it's a condemnation of the political process whereby a running mate is chosen solely for the electoral votes that person can bring with no consideration if the running mate is actually capable of running the country.
EDIT on 18 July 2012:
I finally read the book "Game Change" over the weekend. This movie actually is based on a very, very small amount of the book; it's not even the whole of "Part 3" as stated/implied in several reviews. The book is 23 chapters long (Part 1 - 14 chapters, Part 2 - 3 chapters, Part 3 - 6 chapters). The McCain campaign starts being covered at the beginning of Part 2 and is covered for the rest of the book. This movie is taken from less than two chapters (out of six chapters) in Part 3: Chapter 20 "Sarahcuda" which is all about Palin and how she got selected and Chapter 22 "Seconds in Command" which as the title implies covers both VP nominees (Biden as well as Palin). Plus the movie uses four and a half paragraphs from Chapter 23 "The Finish Line": two paragraphs describing McCain's relationship with Palin and 2.5 paragraphs about McCain and the "crazies" (that's what the book calls them) who started showing up at his rallies. The book does not cover the actual day of the election, so none of the scenes from election day are from the book, neither are any of the private scenes between Palin and her family. It was surprising to me to see how little of the book that this movie was based on. But many of the Palin incidents in the book are depicted reasonably to very faithfully in this movie. Now having read the book, I feel that the movie brought a greater depth of sympathy and understanding to Palin than the book did. And John McCain definitely comes off a lot better and more sympathetic in the movie than the book as the book does not minimize his foul mouth, his temper, his obstinacy and the dysfunctional relationship with his wife. If you're thinking about reading the book believing you'll find out more about Palin than what's presented in the movie, you won't. But you will find out a lot more about the election. (FYI: The rating for this review was 26 out 30 prior to this edit. Can't say if those people would have kept the same opinion of the review with this addition.)
Woody Harrelson is a lock for an Emmy nom, and more than likely
Julianne Moore and Ed Harris get one as well. Palin may take issue with
the moments in the movie that show her getting her diva on, but it's
generally a very humanizing portrayal of her as a mom and wife who may
have been in over her head but did her level best to soldier on. It's
certainly not a caricature of her or a hatchet job. Moore, to her
credit. seems to have gone out of her way to construct a reasonably
balanced view of an extremely polarizing figure.
Had to love that line that Ed Harris delivers late in the movie where he tells Palin not to allow herself to be coopted by the Rush Limbaughs who will destroy the party. HBO couldn't have timed the TV premiere any better. Just lucky or prescient?
Review: Game Change (HBO)
"Recount" creator Jay Roach returns to the politico ring with "Game Change" starring Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, the man behind John McCain's 2008 run for the White House. A straight recount of the vetting of Sarah Palin to the VP post and it's compelling to see Julianne Moore be Sarah Palin (I forgot there was an actress playing her shortly into the movie). Ed Harris fills McCain's shoes with a respectful performance with dignity. All the actors are great, but Moore is absolutely stunning in the dramatic scenes. Roach presents some great moments in history as Palin watches Tina Fey doing an impression of her on SNL (surreal to watch an actor as Palin watching Fey doing Palin). I thought the film makers did a great balance, showing Schmidt as a flawed man who made the mistake of choosing an independent minded woman who has a few major flaws of her own (she is as misinformed as most of the right wing base). Great movie and Moore made me forget she was acting, a perfect performance!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Liberals will see this as a confirmation of their most deeply held
convictions about Sarah Palin; her supporters will see it as a typical
attack of the mainstream media on a particularly outspoken
representative of American patriotism.
Most of those in the middle will view it as an interesting exploration of the process of picking and managing a Vice Presidential candidate during an unusually intense campaign.
The public events that are covered -- mainly Palin's roller-coaster successes and bloopers -- are part of the data base shared by anyone who kept an eye on the new in 2008. None of them seem either exaggerated or underplayed. And whether Palin is succeeding or blooping, there are always reaction shots of campaign manager Steve Schmidt to cue our interpretation.
Of course, we all knew afterward that there was trouble in the bowels of the McCain campaign, that Palin was difficult, but what will be new to those who never read the book is the intensity of the disagreements. If the book, and the adaptation, are accurate, there were serious questions raised about Palin's emotional stability. They were raised by men, who always have difficulty understanding the way women's minds work, as I know all too well. I blame it on the different size of the corpus callosum in the two sexes but there isn't room to explain it here. Too bad. Read my forthcoming tome on the subject, "Men Are Brutes, Women Are Peculiar."
In the end it's difficult to tell how much Palin's candidacy contributed to the outcome of the election. (PS: Kids, John McCain and Palin lost and Barack Obama became president.) In his concession speech, every time McCain mentioned Obama's name the audience erupted in boos. And when he thanked Sarah Palin, standing behind him on the stage, they cheered lustily.
How does Julianne Moore do in her imitation of a very public figure? Not bad. The make up department has done a first-rate job. However, Moore is an exceptionally fine actress but she is not a prom queen. She's not as quietly sexy as Palin. She doesn't have the same full hips in that tight skirt, the same succulent legs, that perky rear end. And her voice is lower. It doesn't chirp in quite the same way. And she speaks more slowly and deliberately than the Palin we've become so used to hearing. But she's good at projecting precisely the right emotional nuances. Her eyes narrow and her lips tighten just to the proper degree when she's balked; and she brightens and pops like a Roman candle when the situation is agreeable. The movie doesn't paint her as an insincere maniac. Her love for her family is pointedly genuine.
The performance I thought most of was Ed Harris' as John McCain. He wallows rapturously in his industrial strength language. And he appears to have been -- and seems to have remained -- a decent and savvy guy of integrity pulled into taking positions by the changing nature of the American electorate. He refers to "the dark side of American populism." When his Vice Presidential candidate was clearly out of Steve Schmidt's control, Schmidt begged McCain to take over the task of shaping her up and McCain wisely refused. "She's liable to turn on me." Woody Harrelson does his best as Steve Schmidt but Schmidt is far harder to pin down than Palin ever was. Harrelson looks like one of those bald-headed hit men out of a cheap action flick. Schmidt is a pudgy, inoffensive-looking lump of very politically sensitive dough. And while Harrelson growls his way through the part, Schmidt, who was born in New Jersey, speaks in a voice that is sui generis. Sarah Paulson is a pathetic figure too.
In a way it's a tragic story. McCain, a seasoned pol, knew what he was about and we'll never know what his administration might have been like. But Palin, for all her feverish enthusiasm and pulchritude, was never meant to be a serious candidate for Vice President or, God Forbid, a President. You and I -- complete dolts when it comes to the details of governance -- know more than she did. As one of the campaign staff points out, political background doesn't make much difference. You have to be a celebrity. Obama is a celebrity and so is Palin. And Harrelson replies, "Yes. The difference is that one of them can't name a single Supreme Court decision and the other is a professor of Constitutional Law." I'm not sure that's entirely true, though. She'd probably heard of Roe v. Wade.
In any case, no need to feel sorry for Sarah Palin. She's constantly before the public and has made millions. The tabloid journalists who attacked her so avidly and stupidly ("When did your water break?") helped elevate her to this position. The person who generates the most sympathy is poor Steve Schmidt. During the intramural battle, a doctor remarks that he looks like -- well, to put it in more respectable terms, he looks as if he'd just been bucked off a Brahma bull or a moose.
HBO ought to be congratulated for coming up now and again with these perceptive and nicely executed examinations of current events and recent personalities. They don't all ring the bell, but what other network is willing to take on these kinds of challenges?
"Game Change" was one of the most excellent docudramas I have seen on
HBO or truthfully anywhere else. The acting, in my opinion, was
flawless. Since I am a political junkie and followed the McCain and
Obama campaigns closely nothing that was illuminated came as a surprise
to me BUT to see it played out gave a dimension to it that I never
could have gotten unless I was closely within the campaign in this case
on the Republican side. The production brought life to all the pages
and pages of newspaper and other description of the campaign's
At times I forgot that Julianne Moore was acting the part as she brought so much realism to it. The same can be said for Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson. All were brilliant.
For me, an ardent Democrat, it simply illuminates why I am one and how grateful I am that Obama won the 2008 campaign. It also illuminates for me why elections matter. It truly has an impact on life or death. What pablum is fed to the media who feeds it to us is NOT in truth what goes on behind the scenes and makes it all the more important to choose wisely those who would determine your fate! Elections matter BUT INTELLECT does as well!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Super outstanding film made by HBO where Julianne Moore gives the
performance of her life as Sarah Palin. Moore is Palin from her looks,
intonation, naivety, and her beginnings as an obscure governor from
Alaska who eventually sees herself as a future leader of America. In
many ways, I was reminded of Broderick Crawford's Oscar winning
portrayal as Willie Stark in the fabulous "All the King's Men," of
1949. Crawford learned how to win; Palin knew very much how to lose.
Both really became demagogues, of course, I wonder if Palin knows what
that word means.
Totally unqualified to be the vice presidential nominee, Palin thinks she is ready despite the gross incompetence she showed during the campaign. She really tries to assert herself in the losing cause.
Seeing this film, you are grateful that McCain lost the presidency. Ed Harris, as McCain, comes off as a foul-mouthed individual, who has ethics, but foolishly went along with the choice of Palin.
Woody Harrelson, as his adviser, Steve Schmidt, gives a tremendous performance as well. He saw the mistake he made and really gives it to Palin on the night of the election.
This is a horrifying look at what could have been a person next in line to be president who was so woefully unprepared for the job. Palin's nomination really could have set the woman's movement back in America for 100 years.
The film is fulled with substance; something that Palin lacked entirely. She was certainly depicted as the apple-pie, soccer mom. That in itself cannot propel you to the vice presidency. Substance does certainly count.
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