Game Change (2012)

Game Change (2012) – I am of the belief that film criticism should be based on nothing more than the quality of a film. However, human beings are fallible and not beyond their own biases. A film like Game Change seems impossible to separate from one’s own political predispositions so allow to me to state for the record that I am a big old lefty liberal and I find Sarah Palin to be a person of little value. I disagree with most of her stated positions, find her lack of information on several key subjects to be abhorrent, and since her resignation as governor believe her to be a little more than a shameless attention-seeker. Biases declared. My mother does not agree with her politically, but feels she got a raw deal: thrust into a spotlight she was not ready for. I would argue she jumped willingly into said spotlight but whatever.

Game Change is based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Only a third of the book is about the McCain-Palin campaign, though it makes up the entirety of this film. Also the book’s authenticity has come under fire from multiple people on both sides of the aisle. It has been accused of valuing sensationalism over accuracy. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. All I’m going on is whether or not the film is well-made. The answer as far as I’m concerned is a qualified yes. Are the portrayals of John McCain, Sarah Palin, Steve Schmitt, and Nicolle Wallace true to life? How the hell should I know? They do, however make for compelling characters in a made-for-HBO movie though.

Game Change seems to take my mother’s position on Palin. As portrayed by Julianne Moore, then-governor Palin is never portrayed as anything less than sincere. Unbalanced, perhaps, but a woman who believes what she is saying at all times. Moore’s Palin is an even-more dead-on impersonation than Tina Fey’s now-famous Saturday Night Live impression (featured briefly twice in the movie), but not so rigid that nuanced character work can’t slide in between all the “You betchas.” John McCain (Ed Harris) is a man of integrity who has been fucked over before and wants to win this time. Steve Schmitt (Woody Harrelson) is the man who feels a real “game changer” of a vice presidential nominee is needed. Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) is the woman who has to work with Palin and therefore the first to realize she is not prepared to handle the pressures of the campaign, let along those of the presidency that she would have to assume were the 72-year-old McCain to win election and die in office.

A lot of the memorable moments of the campaign are dramatized: Palin’s initial speech at the Republican Convention, the revelation of daughter Bristol’s teen pregnancy, her disastrous Katie Couric interview, her less-than-disastrous debate against Joe Biden. Screenwriter Danny Strong (best remembered as recurring character Jonathan on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) doesn’t write the most naturalistic dialogue (his characters have a tendency to speak in profound statements) but it forms a well-told political parable. Good storytelling is more important to me that facts. Oliver Stone’s Nixon reimagines that life as a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Game Change doesn’t quite reach that level. McCain’s slogan is “Country First” and the movie shows what happens when country comes second to politics.

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