Game Change, in a way, is more potent than its political sources. Based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (who has one line of dialogue as a reporter in the movie), Game Change was adapted for HBO by Danny Strong.
Game Change is an engrossing, thought-provoking portrait of what happened when Sarah Palin was selected as vice presidential candidate on the 2008 ticket with John McCain.
The direction and writing are effective, but what is extraordinary about the project is the acting of the three leading actors. They give their roles memorable potency.
Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, and Julianne Moore give three of the best performances they've given in their entire careers. The Republican Party might have been better off running the actors than their actual choices.
Woody Harrelson has never been better. Much of Game Change is from the perspective of Steve Schmidt (Harrelson), who as the political advisor to McCain promoted Sarah Palin for VP. His appreciation of Palin quickly evolves into trepidation.
At one point, he says, "Oh my God, what have we done?" And before the VP debate between Sarah and Joe Biden, Schmidt says, "Please God, be kind." And God is - Palin prevails.
But Schmidt's enthusiasm turns to rancor as the headstrong Sarah goes "rogue."
The writing and delivery for Schmidt is effective. The real-life Schmidt -who now is a political expert on tv - says, "you know" a lot in his commentaries. Not exactly articulate.
In the movie, fortunately he doesn't say it at all. The film's Steve Schmidt is articulate and smartly willful.
Ed Harris is humane in the role of John McCain. The film make him a paragon of decency. There isn't a moment of spite in his character. There's no suggestion that he later was going to barter some of his decency in his Arizona campaigning. In the movie, Harris reclaims McCain's image of a decent maverick.
Obviously, Game Change depends on Julianne Moore's portrayal of Sarah Palin. In a remarkable achievement, she trumps Tina Fey. Fey's Palin was a sketch; Moore's is a full human character.
The rest of the cast is engaging. Sarah Paulson fulfills the crucial role of GOP strategist Nicolle Wallace, who tried to prep the recalcitrant Sarah. Recently, Republican Wallace has admitted she didn't vote in the last election. Because of her experiences, she couldn't bring herself to. It's not a fact in the book. And it wasn't made up by liberal media.
Jay Roach directs with a strong emphasis on the personalities of the characters and the ironies in politics. He's more humanist than propagandist.
Game Change, as in politics, is bristling with ironies. Palin, sitting on a sofa, says to Schmidt, "I'm glad you asked me these questions."
Unfortunately no one asked her the crucial policy ones. This leads to the crushing irony of her saying, "It's important that you know what you're getting."
Game Change shows a world of politics in which you must have facts and specifics. But, more and more, you can lie about them.
Game Change suggests politics isn't chess. It isn't even checkers. It's 52 pickup.
Knowledge is no longer relevant. Whatever one's politics, the game is out of control.
It's not how you play the game. The game has become an expensive farce. Washington, Jefferson, et al. are only faces on money.
At the end of the movie, one character says Palin will soon be forgotten. But when Sarah gets a passionate reaction from the crowd at McCain's concession speech, Schmidt and Wallace give surprised glances.
They realize they've unlocked a Pandora's box of politics.
What have they unleashed?
The future is money and celebrity. And unpredictable troubles.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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