is a searing, behind-the-scenes look at John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, from the decision to select Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate to the ticket’s ultimate defeat in the general election just sixty days later. Told primarily through the eyes of senior McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, who originally championed Palin and later came to regret the choice, Game Change
pulls back the curtain on the intense human drama surrounding the McCain team, the critical decisions made behind closed doors and how the choice was made to bring Palin on the ticket. The film examines how we choose our leaders by offering a unique glimpse into the inner workings of an historic campaign.
Sarah Palin wasn't heard from much in the months leading up to the 2013 home video release of Game Change
. But anyone who's forgotten what they do or don't admire about her need only watch a few minutes of Julianne Moore's uncanny performance as the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate; so completely does Moore inhabit the role in appearance, voice, and mannerisms that it's easy to mistake her for the genuine article. Not that this HBO film, directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong from the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, is an especially flattering portrait of Palin or any of the other featured players, with the possible exception of Ed Harris's Senator John McCain, who's depicted as a fair and decent man caught up in a political tsunami he did little to generate. As the '08 election looms, McCain's team, led by campaign manager Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), sees Palin as a charismatic figure who can match Barack Obama's star power, as well as a devout, pro-life candidate who will satisfy the Republican party's conservative wing. Problem is, they're so impressed by her poise and confidence that they fail to even notice, let alone research, her considerable downside--like the almost total ignorance of issues and lack of intellectual curiosity that result in her not knowing that it's Britain's prime minister, not the queen, who runs the government, or who the United States fought in World Wars I and II, among other jaw-dropping revelations. Moore's Palin isn't a totally unsympathetic character; she's fiercely protective of her family, committed to her principles, and capable of rallying the troops at key moments (such as her acceptance speech at the GOP convention). But this "pit bull with lipstick" image is more than countered by episodes in which she acts like a churlish, borderline irrational child who's more concerned with her Alaska opinion polls than prepping for the ultimately disastrous interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, after which she blames everyone but herself. In the end, her supporters will claim that the film gives her a bad rap. But others will breathe a sigh of relief that this fascinatingly flawed politician didn't end up a heartbeat away from the presidency. --Sam Graham