Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game Change

By sati (harlequinade) Tuesday, March 20, 2012 , , , , , , , , ,
82/100 (117 min, 2012)
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.
Director:Jay Roach
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.
The film does great job at establishing the strong and decisive character of Palin and Moore's amazing work really shines - here is a woman, who was running her state successfully, albeit with some pitfalls and who is first and foremost a family person and a mother. She is very religious, perhaps too much - there are rumours she is a Creationist. And this woman gets caught up as a cog in the ongoing, unstoppable machine of election - she can't back down. She got in because of her ambition and perhaps, because she really thought it's the right thing to do and that she can help. Once she is starting to get ridiculed and bullied, she wishes to just go back to the way things were.

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.
It's really a shame that the film was not a theatrical release - Moore's work as Sarah Palin is among her best, perhaps even on pair with her explosive performance in "Magnolia" and hear felt portrayal of suburban housewife in "Far From Heaven" Moore is the greatest at the scenes where there is a spark in her eyes - whenever even the tiniest thing goes right Palin still believes she can win which is both scary - because of the intensity of her conviction - and sad - because of how deluded she is. Moore conveys all of the emotions dwelling in her character and nails the appearance and voice, along with the accent, without false note.

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.
I really loved Sarah Paulson's work as Nicolle Wallace, driven, sympathetic, but very professional advisor who can see form the beginning that Palin was a horrible choice. She tries to help her, as well as she can, but she also has enough sense and reason to walk away as soon as she sees the whole thing is heading for disaster. Paulson is one of these actresses who I always notice in movies, yet who still awaits her big break. Last year she starred in critically acclaimed "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and in my new favorite show "American Horror Story". Oh, how I hope she gets more roles like those three.

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.
Still with all of its flaws "Game Change" is one of the finest productions I've seen lately and so much better than the last political movie I saw that was made for HBO - "The Special RElationship". With actors like Moore and Harrelson and the quality of work their deliver, script may as well cease to exist and the inexperience director can't ruin their efforts. As much as the film can be all over the place in certain moments there are many brilliant scenes, especially the ones that have Palin releasing her diabolical ambition, that nobody suspected she may have.

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.


  1. Haven't seen this yet. Always knew some one would make a movie about Palin. All this time I thought Tina Fey was perfect for this role, but from the look of things, Julianne Moore more than fits the Bill. Unluckily for me I don't have HBO, so I don't know how I'm gonna see this.

    1. Fey in my opinion has absolutely no dramatic talent and very little comedy skill, I just don't like her :)

  2. I was watching some of this on HBO and really liked the performances in that film. Even though it's a dramatic take of what might've gone on in that campaign. It was very sympathetic towards those characters. I did love that scene where Palin got angry over the clothes that was bought for her because they were so expensive.

  3. I thought this was pretty well done when I checked it out on HBO last week. This film received a lot of hate from the Palin camp and conservative circles prior to its realease. Which is strange in that no one had seen the film and I thought it painted Palin as a sympathetic figure. She was simply in over her head and lacked an understanding of the larger world.
    As you stated Moore was excellent and I thougt Harrelson was good as well.

    Nice post

    1. Thanks! Really? wow that's weird I thought she came off pretty well in this film, it didn't really assigned blame to anyone.

  4. God she looks just like Palin!!

    I don't think I will see this one though as I am not great with political movies. Did you see Sarah Palin You Betcha! The Doc from last year?

    1. No, I didn't was it good? It's really more of a backstory and doesn't go that deep into politics.

  5. The first time I opened this link and saw the poster, I could have sworn it was Sarah Palin on it, but then I realised it was Moore. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it sounds very good and I think she is an interesting character. I will check it out soon! Great post!