Movie Review: “Game Change”

Written by Brent Holmes March 25, 2012

When did history start getting written by the losers?

After the success of The Social Network, it seems that any cultural figure is fair game to make a movie about—regardless of whether or not they are still living. Is this development a part of the social media based culture? HBO’s Game Change follows the selection and campaign of Sarah Palin during the 2008 race for the White House.

Sarah Palin is not really worth making a film about: Obama won the election, and the best thing we can hope from Palin is that she passes through the bowels of historical memory without making a loud sound or a stink on the way out.

Desperate for a way to counter the celebrity factor of Obama, John McCain’s campaign manager Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) is desperate to find a “game changer” to change the tone of the 2008 Presidential election. Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) seems to be the perfect choice: she’s a woman, young, and can bring the same energy to the election. Easily convincing McCain (Ed Harris) to pick her proves disastrous when Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience becomes an unsurpassable hurdle.

To be fair, the performances are all really strong. Moore captures Palin and disappears into the character. Harrelson’s frustration as Palin’s mistakes become more acute is darkly comedic, but also well presented. Harris’s McCain doesn’t seem as accurate, he doesn’t look or sound the part enough but in the few scenes he is in he does well enough.

Unfortunately, these performances are not enough to overcome the fact that the film is about Sarah Palin—a woman who raised the bar for Republican stupidity when George W. Bush was not even out of the picture.

The film has the same dark cynicism of The Ides of March with Palin’s campaign team developing tricks to make her appear educated about national and foreign issue—it doesn’t matter that she has no knowledge about these issues, it matters whether or not they win the election. Constructing a Sarah Palin that appears smart and well-informed becomes more important to Schmidt and the campaign team than what Palin actually knows.

However, McCain wants to run his campaign honourably. He doesn’t want to use attack ads and opposes an aggressive campaign: at one speech cutting off one racist bigot when she starts into an uninformed tirade about Obama’s religious beliefs. He feels overwhelmed by the base Republicans who are more aggressive and uninformed.

As with most films focused on recent history, the question of accuracy is always one that comes up. There isn’t much that seems to be out of place with the film and director Jay Roach is fair with the material—one does feel empathy for Palin when watching this film. With McCain and Palin outright refusing to even see the film, the two people who could claim the film is inaccurate have invalidated their own opinions.

The problem with Game Change is it doesn’t change the game and who lost it. Palin was a horrible choice for McCain’s campaign team and society in general. The American people were thankfully smart enough to realize that fact in 2008 so a film that points that out isn’t going to change anything. It will be interesting to see if HBO follows the same trend with the upcoming comedy show, Veep, which looks to be covering the same material.

My Rating: 5/10

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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