Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Game Change

I have, shall we say, interesting feelings toward Sarah Palin. Okay, let's not beat around the bush, those feelings consist mostly of white hot rage. I'm an Alaskan, I was born there and I lived there for 13 years, plus all the times I've visited (my father still lives there) and I was living there and working on the Begich Senate Race in 2008, while she was running for Vice-President. In that respect, Game Change is interesting, as it's quite a good movie that takes an almost sympathetic view of Ms. Palin.

The film's story is fairly predictable from it's set up: It's August in the 2008 Presidential Election and McCain is badly behind and needs a Vice-Presidential Candidate. He chooses the underprepared Sarah Palin (as played by Julianne Moore) as his running mate, and the rest is very stupid history. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Woody Harrelson as a campaign advisor who chose her. Most of the big moments (Convention Speech, Couric Interview, Debate etc.) are re-enacted by the various actors.

The film instantly separates itself from inferior political movies by taking little to no position on Sarah Palin's politics. She is absurdly pro-choice, for example. This is neither a good nor a bad thing for the movie, merely a fact of the person, and something which they wisely do not dwell on. They expect us to already have an opinion on Sarah Palin, and don't want this movie to change our minds. This, combined with the interesting decision to portray Obama, Biden and even the Media entirely through real footage, rather than actors, allows us to separate the politics from the movie and really concentrate on the story and the characters.

On the acting side Julianne Moore as Palin is the real standout. She looks and sounds almost eerily like Palin, but that's not the point. She inhabits Palin, as a none too bright but decent person who really doesn't understand all this media attention, or even the campaign itself, much less more complex things like foreign policy or economics. It portrays her as a nice person for whom everything has always worked out well and she intends to keep working it like that. She is initially caught in the headlights (and headed for a breakdown), but when she realizes that she is the star of the show, her ego inflates and she begins taking control and saying contradictory or even outright wrong things. Moore is able to sell both actions as the same person, especially during her freakout post-Couric where she blames everyone else.

Harrelson does a solid job as the foundation of the movie, though he gets help from Ron Livingston and Sarah Paulson. He sells the behind-the-scenes frustration excellently, through both dialogue and subtle physical reactions (a standout moment for me is, during the Couric interview, where he bursts out yelling 'Name one fucking paper!'). Ed Harris as John McCain is relegated more to the background, portrayed here as decent man fighting a losing battle who eventually ends up running a campaign he doesn't like.

The script is rather good too, deftly balancing the behind-the-scenes nonsense with the reenactments of the famous events. If I have to complain about something (and I do) it would be that the direction isn't too great (with a couple exceptions). But then, it's TV movie, I'm not expecting a The Shining tracking shot. In fact the direction is a good analogy for a good portion of the movie: Does what it needs to do so that the really good parts can shine.

What you have to know is that Game Change is an interesting, uniquely made movie, the kind of which doesn't wander onto TV, much less theaters, too often. When it hits DVD, or if they rerun it, you should definitely give it a shot (or maybe it's On Demand, I dunno). Highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this is the first time he's ever reviewed a TV movie.

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