Game Change (2012) – A Review


A review of the 2012 political movie Game Change about the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign starring Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson

Game Change political movie Sarah Palin John McCain

Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) is ready to make a run for the presidency in 2008. His election strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) knows they must make a big game changing move to compete with the popular Barack O’Bama. They believe their solution lays in the selection of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as McCain’s running mate.

Palin’s star quality, wholesome image and small town charisma will surely guarantee the votes they need to win the election. However, it seems Schmidt overestimated Palin’s political qualifications to be the vice president. Her erratic behavior, political inexperience and embarrassing ignorance on the simplest issues gradually becomes a detriment to McCain’s campaign.

HBO’s docudrama based on the book by Schmidt caught a lot of attention when it premiered. A lot of criticism was lobbed at it for its inaccuracies and unfair portrayal of Palin. Admittedly, I’m not sure how truthful all the behind scenes drama the film presents is.

Perhaps, Palin is treated unfairly and the blame the film puts on her for the collapse of McCain’s campaign is unjust. This story is afterall from the perspective of a select few and I’m sure other parties would contradict their views.

But leaving that aside, Game Change is an awfully entertaining movie.

Game Change Julianne Moore as Sarah PalinI look at the movie as more of a example of how we choose our leaders. Experience and knowledge can easily be trumped by a dynamic likable persona. The people are more won over by the pretty package rather than what is actually inside the box – even if it’s empty.

Moore is quite good as Palin. This Palin could have easily been a ‘Tina Fey caricature’, but Moore manages to make her a more rounded character.

In many ways I think she’s treated rather fairly within the film. Of course at times I was bewildered by her ignorance, but also felt sympathy for this woman who is thrust into the national spotlight being totally unprepared for what she’s signed up for.

I’ve always liked Ed Harris and while I never thought he looked like McCain very much, he brings a relaxed authority to the role. He’s a guy I like and who appears to want to do the right thing. When his advisers push him to do something he’s uncomfortable with he might ultimately agree to it, but there’s a reluctance to it. As the story progresses and he realizes this campaign is not the one he envisioned running there’s a sadness about it.

Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace who’s tasked with preparing Palin with her interviews is the standout among the supporting cast. She’s completely overwhelmed with the reluctant Palin and gradually begins to see this is a woman who is totally unqualified for the position she’s running for.

Game Change 2012 Sarah Paulson Woody Harrelson Steve SchmidtMost of the attention from the movie was not surprisingly given to Moore as Palin. She’s got the showier part, we all know how the real Palin looks and sounds and everyone is naturally inclined to draw comparisons to see if Moore can pull it off.

But I think the biggest unsung hero in this is Woody Harrelson. He’s terrific as the stressed out Schmidt. His optimism gradually turns into bigger and bigger worries as the campaign progresses and the hopes he had for what Palin would be comes crumbling down. He’s great as he tries to contain his frustration with her throughout many scenes, the growing concerns of her selection as VP, him sweating bullets trying to handle all the problems she’s giving him until he literally looks like he’s going to flip out.

I never viewed this as a documentary and go into watching films ‘based on real events’ with the idea we’re just seeing a selected view of a story. Usually it’s the most compelling angle and embellishments are going to be made.

So, Game Change could very well be a ‘selected truth’, but I still found it an entertaining movie with some very good performances.


1 thought on “Game Change (2012) – A Review

  1. I did watch this only for the three lead actors, all of whom I love and respect. The film itself was…okay. Politics aside, I didn't learn much and to be honest none of it stuck with me when it was over. That being said, Harrelson was great! Good to see Moore finally pick up an Oscar for STILL ALICE, which I have yet to see. Nice review! 🙂

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