Entertainment Magazine

Game Change

Posted on the 12 February 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Game ChangeWhat a strange, memorable election 2008 was: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's brutal primary fight, John McCain and Sarah Palin's dysfunctional campaign, nonstop media coverage, last-minute economic collapse. Game Change (2012) dramatizes the Republican ticket's issues, showing the cost of politicians placing style over substance.
Senator John McCain's (Ed Harris) presidential campaign is faltering: conservatives dislike his moderate stance, youth and woman voters back Barack Obama. Campaign manager Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) hits on a brilliant solution: selecting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) as McCain's running mate. Palin connects with disaffected conservatives, her constant gaffes make her a punch line. Increasingly wilful, she defies Schmidt's efforts at damage control.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's source book takes an irresistible tabloid approach to politics, more TMZ than Theodore White. Director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong find compelling personal drama in the McCain-Palin saga. Picking Palin is McCain's Hail Mary to save a faltering campaign; she's barely vetted by Schmidt and proves woefully ignorant of big issues, especially foreign policy. It's easy to mock Palin, but why was this obscure, small-state Governor selected in the first place?
Palin's loving with her family and dynamic on the campaign trail; one pities her, undoubtedly in over her head. That is, until she spurns Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace's (Sarah Paulson) advice and "goes rogue" on the campaign trail. Her blend of arrogance, media appeal and debased populism stokes the Republican Id, questioning Obama's citizenship and shouting death threats. McCain's dismayed by the ugliness, but refuses to rein her in.
After two exhausting election cycles and seven years of government gridlock, Game Change proves mere foreshadowing. Whether Palin's heroine, victim or villain depends on the viewer: regardless, her campaign provided the impetus for the Tea Party movement and the GOP's toxic extremism. Schmidt's lament that their campaign's become a "bad reality show" is now simple fact; how else to explain Donald Trump?
Julianne Moore expertly portrays Palin as a complicated figure. Bearing a striking resemblance, Moore digs beneath the Tina Fey caricature to find a complex, frustrating but sympathetic woman. Ed Harris evokes McCain's short temper and self-righteousness with minimal screen time. Woody Harrelson's exasperation provides a good audience surrogate; and Sarah Paulson fill other key roles.
Many things spurred my transition from fanatical College Republican to cynical pseudo-liberal. But Sarah Palin was a major factor; from botched interviews to campaign gaffes and arrogant ignorance, she proved indefensible even to someone who supported George Bush and the Iraq War long past their sell-by date. Game Change provides a wince-inducing reminder of that disillusionment, and a foretaste of unpleasantness to come.

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