I never thought I could warm up to Sarah Palin and I never wanted to. But HBO's new film GAME CHANGE has softened me up a bit. People expected this to be a cutthroat attack emphasizing all her mistakes, her accent, and the constant comedic satires, especially from Saturday Night Live. All of these elements are here; they have to be because they occurred and were viral through out the campaign.
GAME CHANGE begins with John McCain ( Ed Harris) and his chief political advisor (Woody Harrelson) desperately trying to find a "game change" candidate for the GOP ticket. After eliminating almost every possibility, they pick Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore), the Governor of Alaska. Who? Where? We follow a totally inadequate five day vetting in which the small team is snowed by Palin's in your face charm and lifestyle. Somehow no one asks about policy...any policy.
The major part of the film deals with the education of Sarah Palin. Not the re-education, but Education. After her famous interview with Katie Couric, her team is determined to teach her foreign policy, and all the rest. Meanwhile Palin has struck a chord with a vast swath of similarly uneducated supporters, which she calls "her people." (I readily admit a certain bias in the last description) And she begins to get heat from comedians on late night and especially Tina Fey's dead-on impersonations on Saturday Night Live.
All this pressure finally leads Palin to a complete shutdown a week before the vice presidential debate. Her advisors take away her hundreds of note cards and have her memorize 25 policy statements. This works, and her popularity rises, causing her to make erroneous statements that embarrass McCain.
The writing, the use of actual footage from the campaign, and the intensity of trying to combat a force of history (a black president) are all viable forces in GAME CHANGE. But the acting is on a par with almost any Best Picture candidate around. Harrelson is amazingly real as the political advisor. Reading his facial reactions from hope to disbelief to despair sums up the worst in a political campaign. Ed Harris, one of our finest actors(THE RIGHT STUFF, POLLOCK) makes a sympathetic McCain, a man who wants to be honorable in a sometimes dirty game. Julianne Moore (THE HOURS, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), cleverly tones down Palin's eccentricities and emphasizes her growing recognition of what politics can do a person and a family. The close-ups on Palin's face as she watches the SNL parody of the Couric interview reveal her pride and her painful disappointment.
GAME CHANGE is a much finer political film than most, including NIXON, TRUMAN, or JFK because it takes itself seriously without giving in to cheap shots.