Plot: Follows John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, from his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate to their ultimate defeat in the general election.
Writers: Mark Halperin (book), Danny Strong (adaptation)
Stars: Ed Harris, Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson
"I am NOT your puppet!"
Sarah Palin. If like me you don't live in USA what you know about her is probably only that she wears glasses, that she doesn't have much knowledge even you posses and you probably remember those horrible Fey/Pohler parodies (embarrassing for them too, since they were completely not funny). HBO's Game Change shows us a sympathetic look at her and with it comes one of the most outstanding performances from amazing Julianne Moore, who is long overdue for an Oscar, but at least with this film she is sure to win Emmy this year.
The movie begins in the midst of the presidential campaign when Obama is leading in the polls and McCain desperately needs something to win, he needs a game change. With the help of his advisers - Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) and Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) he decides he needs to find a woman in the party, that would, if he wins, become vice president. Davis finds Palin - attractive, feisty and energetic governor of Alaska. And she is more than happy to help the campaign.
After the initial enthusiasm and the success a flood of problems arrive - one of Palin's five kids, her teenage daughter is pregnant and unmarried. Palin's husband is said to be a member of radical groups. And the worst of them all - she has no idea about foreign policy. The movie has a lot of great and poignant moments - in one of which a reporter says that to be fair, probably most people can't name a Supreme Court judge, but most people are not running to become vice president. And Palin's issues are even worse than that - she has no idea that The Great Britain has Prime Minister nor does she understand the differences between the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
Palin makes effort to learn all the things she needs to know and those sequences are inter cut with Schmidt wondering if he made a horrible mistake by suggesting her to McCain and her primary advisor Nicolle Wallace (played by beautiful Sarah Paulson) questioning his judgement and the way he handled that whole situation. The blame is on both sides - they didn't ask the right question before they made this all happen and Palin didn't raise any issues and alerted them about the possible problems. Once the issues come up it is too late - the insane race to the presidency is in the progress and the eyes of the entire World are on them, following their every move and scrutinizing it.
She obsessively focuses on the things in Alaska, hoping to go back to her former position after the campaign is over, she keeps going in and out of the catatonic state when she just stares blankly in the distance. Her advisers are starting to believe she is insane, but I saw it more as a coping mechanism - at one point when the campaign people figured out there is not much time to taught Palin everything she has to know, they just told her to memorize her lines. When it went wrong, she was publicly ridiculed. So there really is no way out, what is she to do? She just shuts down, perhaps in the effort to punish them.
The movie does a great job at painting rich characters, but its mostly because of the casting - the actors are really fantastic - Ed Harris looks nothing like real John McCain but somehow manages to makes us forget about it when we watch him on screen. McCain and Palin's advisers are all played by great actors but the stand out is definitely Harrelson's Schmidt, second most important figure in the movie. It is a powerful performance, with a lot of different emotions and with hell a lot of intensity. Harrelson shines both in dramatic and comedy moments - there are quite the few laughs here in the movie, mostly when the advisers watch Palin during her TV appearances, on the verge of panic and breakdown, never knowing how it will go.
With all its fine acting and gripping story - you really don't need to know much about politics to understand what is going on in the movie - the film is no masterpiece. Jay Roach, its director also made, hang on, "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents" movies. Now, comparing to those "Game Change" is almost "Schindler's List" . But comparing to all the other political films, it falls short, especially in its scattered, third act, where the director loses his main figures in the story out of his sight for too long, which only makes the movie look chaotic and unfocused.
The film spends way too much time showing us real footage - with a story as fresh as this one, we really do not need all of those Obama's speeches and people looking moved and enthusiastic. We all remember it. The movie is at its best when it shows us things, we never saw on TV, all the meltdowns, worries and screaming that went down backstage, far away from the public's eye.