Sarah Palin. There are few names more divisive than hers. Four years ago when she was plucked from obscurity literally from the wilds of Alaska, few people knew who she was. The new HBO movie Game Change is about how that moment happened and everything that happened after that.
Game Change is an impressive movie. It would have been easy to paint the McCain/Palin campaign as a bunch of morons who made mistake after mistake and basically do the whole thing as an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. Instead, they portray an incredibly balanced narrative about a presidential campaign in trouble and the methods they used to give the campaign the shot in the arm it needed.
It’s difficult to portray real people who are still alive and in the public spotlight. Julianne Moore manages to play Sarah Palin as a real person in extraordinary circumstances and does it all without falling into cliché or caricature. Ed Harris seems to disappear into the role of John McCain. The only time you notice it’s Ed Harris is when you hear his unmistakable voice. He plays McCain as an American hero really trying to do what ‘s best for the country while also winning an election. Much like real life, these two rarely share the screen together. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of campaign strategist Steve Schmidt is easy to overlook but shouldn’t be. In many ways, his character carries the movie and symbolizes the momentum and drive of the campaign.
Before Sarah Palin, John McCain was losing. He was too old. He wasn’t popular with women. He didn’t have the charisma that Obama had. What he had was a long distinguished career was a politician and war hero. Sarah Palin was the exact opposite. She was a charismatic, female, with almost no experience and no real knowledge. She was flash. He was substance. On paper, I can see how it looked like a good idea and Game Change makes that clear.
Game Change also makes it clear that Sarah Palin simply had no idea what she was getting herself into. This was because she was a bit naïve and a bit stupid. Her folksy charm won over millions at the Republican National Convention. We’d seen this sort of down home charm in both Bush presidencies and there’s a good portion of America who are comforted by it.
Unfortunately, there was nothing behind the Sarah’s charm. She had no grasp of international politics and had difficulty understanding even the simplest of policies. Game Change shows how McCain’s people try to teach her but it’s impossible for her to listen because the entire time she’s being told by the people how much they love her. She thinks she doesn’t need to change because people love her. Though she doesn’t say it, her actions say, “I don’t have to be smart. I’m pretty and they like me.”
Towards the end of Game Change, it becomes a bit of a monster movie in that you can tell McCain’s people are thinking, “My god! What have we created?” as Sarah Palin continues to go against campaign policies and blatantly lies about things when she doesn’t like them. Though the movie does a good job of giving us insight into the mechanics behind the failure of the McCain/Palin campaign, I still had a hard time feeling bad for the character of Sarah Palin. This may be due to my own political opinions. Then again, it may have something to do with Sarah just being the sort of person I don’t care for.
Game Change is a good movie and a cautionary tale. It would be much better if it were fictional. The idea that this actually happened is a bit disturbing. The even more disturbing part is that as the presidential race heats up again, things seem to be even crazier. I wonder what HBO will do with this in four years.
– Jack Cameron