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Game Change

Sarah, we hardly knew ye ... which is exactly the point.

Rod Lott January 10th, 2013

Nearly every scene of the made-for-HBO Game Change, I recall from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's excellent nonfiction book of the same name. But the movie directed by Jay Roach (of the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents franchises) tells only half — maybe even just one-quarter — of the story, ignoring the 2008 presidential-campaign narratives of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for the one it finds most compelling: that of Sarah Palin and John McCain, and not the other way around.


If Sen. McCain's choice of the largely unknown Alaska Gov. Palin as his veep choice seemed out of nowhere then, there's good reason: Because it pretty much was. McCain, here played by Ed Harris (Man on a Ledge), wanted Sen. Joe Lieberman, but was talked into someone “more transformative” by hired gun Steven Schmidt (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games).

At that point, so pressed for time was the McCain campaign, Palin (Julianne Moore, Crazy, Stupid, Love.) wasn't vetted properly. For example, she informed Schmidt and company of her daughter Bristol's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but not of her husband's membership in Alaska's secessionist party. Nor the extent of her political knowledge — or lack thereof — as she doesn't know why there's a North and South Korea, what the Federal Reserve is, or who ordered the 9/11 attacks (she says Saddam Hussein).

While facts were not Palin's strong point, acting was. Once the campaign just let her be her, McCain’s journey toward the White House got back on track ... but at the expense of McCain, who no longer could control her power grab. About all he could do is say “fuck” an awful lot (in stark contrast to her one and only curse word: “flippin’”).

To that extent, Harris' McCain is pretty much a beer-drinking cartoon. That's not the actor’s fault; that's all the script gives him to do. He's a supporting player to the tug of war between Schmidt and Palin. Harrelson is strong as expected, but Moore is stronger — so much so that I literally forgot I was watching her; her recent Emmy win for this telefilm was well-deserved. Naturally, she's best portraying the side of Palin we've never seen: so stressed, she's increasingly catatonic, and not from her constant consumption of Diet Dr Pepper.

While Moore proves the best choice for the role, the scenes of the behind-the-scenes reactions to Palin's speeches and debates are the definition of forced, from “She's incredible!” to “Now I know why they call her Sarah Barracuda!” Emmy-winning although they may be, lines like those keep Game Change at that made-for-TV level, despite that top-drawer talent. It’s good, but not transformative good. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
Crazy, Stupid, Love. Blu-ray review     
The Hunger Games Blu-ray review     

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