Insider’s look at Sarah Palin and the 2008 presidential campaign is fair and balanced
By Jimmy Gillman
Though her star power has diminished considerably in recent months, the meteoric rise of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was quite unlike anything previously seen in modern politics; her ascension and stumbles laid bare in this engrossing behind-the-scenes affair.
At first a tremendous boost to the presidential hopes of Republican candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona, the little-known Palin quickly became both a lightning rod and a rogue on the campaign trail, roundly criticized for, among other things, being wholly unprepared to assume high office. But many also adored the attractive, image-conscious “soccer mom” politician and she soon was a force to be reckoned with.
In director Jay Roach’s surprisingly sympathetic, Golden Globe winning Game Change, based on the non-fiction best seller by reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilmann, the Palin selection process and its aftermath are examined in straightforward, first-hand manner. Viewers expecting a hatchet job or Saturday Night Live-like parody will be disappointed (the fact that many liberals thought the film was too easy on Palin and many conservatives thought it too harsh probably means the filmmakers got it about right).
Julianne Moore, who won a Golden Globe for her three-dimensional performance as Palin, is made to look a great deal like the vice presidential candidate, but her portrayal sometimes lacks the saucy playfulness that for many was (and is) part of Palin’s appeal. Still, Moore never parodies or makes fun of Palin and she brings a great deal of understanding to the role.
That’s not to say the filmmakers play down or attempt to avoid the darker, more inept aspects of Palin—her disastrous interviews, outrageous statements, demanding behavior and decidedly limited command of the facts (or even basic historical information). But Game Change also shows Palin to be a loving and caring mother and wife who was exploited by the McCain campaign for all the wrong reasons, manipulated and leashed until she eventually took the reins and began calling her own shots.
The film’s other major point of view is that of Senior McCain Advisor Steve Schmidt, the man most responsible for Palin’s selection and the one charged with the increasingly daunting (and dicey) task of overseeing her activities. As Schmidt, Woody Harrelson turns in a magnificent performance and apparently a truthful one as the real-life Schmidt has confirmed its authenticity.
The peripheral players are well drawn with a supporting cast equal to the material, some of which will come as a surprise to viewers, even those who follow these sorts of things closely and think they know all there is to know about Palin.
Ed Harris, who won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, is successful as McCain (also given sympathetic treatment) and the production values are effective throughout, making Game Change another solid historical drama from the folks at HBO.