When one watches an original HBO film, one knows what one is going to get. The formula has been very successful for HBO and they are not going to change it anytime soon. Take a true life story that is still fresh in people’s mind, sprinkle in some film stars trying to get the Emmy for the EGOT and mix it together with a well written screenplay and breezy direction.
Game Change does not break the mold but is a solid addition to a slate of original films HBO has been piling up lately. It should garner the cable network many more awards and accolades in the future. The film is based on the best selling book of the same name that was released in 2010. The book covered the 2008 political race for presidency from all parties and was equally about Obama, Edwards, Clinton and McCain. The movie decided to condense the story to only deal with McCain and more importantly Sarah Palin.
Four years after this election, we all know the major beats that this movie was going to take, from the horrible Katie Couric interview to the SNL parodies. This movie hits them all. Yet, thanks to a wonderful performance by Julianne Moore, Palin doesn’t come off as nearly the two dimensional villain that she easily could have been. In the movie Palin is stubborn, uninformed and a little unhinged, but Moore somehow finds humanity in her throughout the film. Palin might not have been right to be a heartbeat from the president but the movie shows that she did have some humanity. She is portrayed as needing her loved ones near, and she is the strongest when being supported by her family. The performance and direction also take the time to show why she was such a big story. The charisma and showmanship that she had that swayed many supporters to her side is shown in the film and gives the viewer a better understanding of how a person so ill-suited for the job made it an interesting race for a few weeks.
In addition to Moore, there were very strong performances from the supporting cast. Woody Harrleson and Sarah Paulson both made the exasperation their characters had to feel trying to control both Palin and the media come to life. While watching the film all I could think of was that I would not have wanted to have either of their jobs, no matter the pay. Both actors conveyed their helplessness so well I almost got an ulcer watching what they had to go through. Near the end of the film Nicole Wallace (Sarah Paulson) breaks down and says that she couldn’t make herself vote for her ticket because of Palin. While this could usually come off as unrealistic, after seeing what she had to deal with, I don’t know if I would have voted either. Finally, an actor who has been overlooked because of the wonderful job Moore does is Ed Harris, who portrays John McCain.
Even though Harris might not look as much like the senator as Moore did as Palin, I think his performance was just as strong. Although the viewer feels bad for all the people on the campaign trail, you also think that they were the ones who created the monster. As many people in the campaign knew, the election wasn’t so much about who was the better politician but who put on the better show. The one person who gets my pity is McCain, who tried to run a campaign on his ideals only to see it slowly slipping away from him for “party reasons.” Harris is great as McCain and a person, no matter how liberal they might be, could not watch the film and not like him in the end.
When it comes to the writing and directing, they did fit well into the little box of HBO original films. I knew that there would be people talking in hushed voices that just screamed “this is important!” There were going to be recreated scenes that most people saw played endlessly through CNN and Fox News when it was actually happening. Finally, there would be moments where characters are watching a TV and cheering/shaking hands when good news gets to them. All of these tropes were in the film, and I could have plotted the movie and its story beats even before watching it. The thing is, it didn’t matter, because the movie might have treaded a familiar path, but at least it tread it well. The script by Danny Strong (Recount and forever Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to me) brings all these characters to life and gives them flaws and strengths that the actors can emulate. The direction from Jay Roach (Austin Powers) was unobtrusive but kept the flow going and tempo strong. At the end of the movie, your whole life might not be changed (I doubt the movie swayed anyone’s opinion of the 2008 election or of Palin) but it was a damn entertaining film.
Game Change, much like Recount and Too Big To Fail, is an enjoyable 2 hours that expands what one saw on the nightly news. Thanks to the performances from Julianne Moore to Ed Harris, the film feels a little heavier than the breezy tone would lead one to believe. Watch this film now, so in 7-8 months it won’t be surprising when all of the trophies start to pile up for Moore and this film.