Our early review of HBO’s Game Change – This weekend HBOWatch had an amazing opportunity to view HBO Film’s latest movie: Game Change before the general population sees it this Saturday night (March 10). The show took place at the historic Uptown theater in Seattle’s Queen Anne district. It was a full house and members of the Seattle International Film Festival were also invited to view the film.
Shortly after 7PM the lights dimmed and the show began. the controversy surrounding the film is enough reason to get excited about seeing it with barbs flying from both well-known political talking heads as well as Sarah Palin herself. If you somehow haven’t heard- Game Change is based on a book of the same name and follows the 2008 McCain campaign, specifically the pick of Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.
The film shows John McCain (played by Ed Harris) in a very favorable light. In a way he seems to be the Ned Stark of the political realm always talking about “the kind of campaign his children could be proud of” and turning down some of the more hawkish advisers when they try to push him towards an unethical or otherwise shady political tactic. He also ends up looking very supportive of Palin in the end, seeing her as a regular woman in over her head and feeling a bit of responsibility for changing her life irrevocably.
The advisers around McCain are all over the map. They’re trying their best to get McCain elected and choose Gov. Palin out of a need for a “Game Changer” as now-President Obama’s political wins continue to mount. There is a bit of infighting with regards to the VP pick and the entire vetting process seems as though it was rushed and not entirely thorough. No one was able to grill Mrs. Palin on foreign affairs and other important topics which become important in later debates and interviews. Woody Harrelson’s character (the head of McCain’s campaign) was extremely captivating and you could feel his struggle to try and figure out what was best for the campaign and he friend and boss John McCain. He has doubts about Palin at first but eventually gets excited about the pick and tries his best to make it work but as time goes on he slowly realizes that this person wasn’t the right choice. Whether or not a different pick (Joe Lieberman was McCain’s pick but advisers wouldn’t let him go that direction) would have meant a McCain presidency is something we’ll never know for sure but the movie seems to indicate that Palin brought just as much to the ticket as she took away. Perhaps nothing could have stopped the Obama machine in 2008 and the film isn’t there to say that she was the reason for Mr. Obama’s win.
Palin herself is the main focus of the film and the feature attraction of Game Change. Juliane Moore certainly looks the role and I found myself sometimes forgetting that she wasn’t actually Sarah Palin. A good sign for any actress. She nails the mannerisms and brings a ton of emotion to the character. Tina Fey (who also makes a couple of appearances in the film) should watch her back because Mrs. Moore does an incredible Sarah Palin. She takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions that Sarah herself almost certainly felt. You question the way she responds to the stress but you certainly feel empathy for her difficult position.
Through the film I faltered back and fourth between feeling empathy and pure disdain for the governor as a human being. She was obviously completely unprepared for the national spotlight coming from a small town mayorship in Alaska, to a governorship in that same state. It quickly becomes obvious that she really wasn’t ready for the scrutiny and negativity that was going to come her way on the big stage. The movie basically shows her going through a mental breakdown and she eventually loses it completely, telling off staff members, reporters and handlers.
I felt bad for her in the sense that she didn’t really know what she was signing up for (though the film portrays them warning her several times before the pick) but there were also scenes that left you wondering if Sarah Palin really ever wanted to serve her country in this role. At the beginning of the film McCain’s advisers asked her specifically if she would be willing to support Mr. McCain on a number of issues they disagreed on (abortion, stem-cell research) but later when asked to appear in an ad that supported those views (again, something she was asked about specifically) she walked off the set in a huff. She also demanded her own private $60,000 Alaska-only polls for her own personal comfort, and generally blamed the patient, world-class political staffers trying desperately to help her for her own failures.
Details like these are fairly damning and coupled with the knowledge that she left her Governorship shortly after the election for a position at Fox News it leave you wondering whether Mrs. Palin simply wanted to use the VP nod as a stepping stone to a life of simple punditry and financial security.
After the film we were lucky enough to be able to participate in a Q and A with one of the co-authors of the original book, Mark Halperin. Most of the questions centered around the validity of the facts of the film and Mark assured the audience that many interviews were done before during and after the film’s production. HBO itself has defended the film in a letter to politico as well. For what it’s worth, Mr. Halperin is a very smart man and seemed to have answers to everything that was asked of him. Though it did seem like he was trying to soften what was obviously a movie that showed Sarah Palin in a very harsh light. He is correct in that I came away with a more sympathetic view of the woman, the mother and the wife, Sarah Palin but I probably have even less respect (if that’s possible) for the woman as a politician / potential President of the United States– she just doesn’t posses the stamina or intellectual ability that would be required of her to be President, let alone Alaska’s Governor if Game Change is to believed. Mr. Halperin might actually believe that the film shows Sarah Palin %50 favorably but I doubt she would agree and in this case I’d have to agree with Palin’s supporters. Whether or not these portrayals are %100 factual is certainly up for debate but from what we’ve read about the production of the book and film- interviews were conducted with almost everyone who is shown in the film (other than the two candidates) so it’s tough for them to argue with themselves! Some of these negative aspects are almost certainly true and I think Sarah Palin comes out looking very foolish, selfish and incompetent aside from the empathy you might feel for her nervous breakdown under extreme conditions. If nothing else you almost certainly come away with the thought that Halperin/Moore’s Sarah Palin should not be a 70 year old’s heartbeat away from the Presidency of the United States.
The film was captivating from start to finish and I hope everyone gets a chance to see it this weekend on HBO. As someone who’s had to cover the entire story here on HBOWatch I feel like the film is a fairly accurate account of some of the things that went on. Many of which were documented at the time and are already known (the Katie Couric interview, the disagreement between McCain and Palin’s staff etc) It focuses more on the negative (and entertaining) aspects of that campaign and I’m sure they left out some of more light-hearted, amazing moments where Sarah Palin wasn’t losing her mind but from what I could tell, what I was watching was fairly close to the truth of it. Be sure to set your DVR to record Game Change on March 10th! Only on HBO.