McCain and Palin: Strong and Roach’s Game Change

A telemovie called Game Change with Julianne Moore as Palin, Ed Harris as McCain and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, their campaign manager, is better than The Ides of March and the best backstage-of-politics film I have thus far seen. Avoiding Sorkin heroics, Oliver Stone ‘revelations’ and Spencer Tracy gravitas, it gets the tedium, sleeplessness, panic, momentary exuberance and knuckle-white suspense of campaigning (I have watched backstage about ten campaigns) than any film since, well, The Candidate in 1976.

It o’ersteps not, in Hamlet’s nice phrase, the modesty of nature. It is as it must have been. Woody Harrelson is as good as Giamatti and Hoffman in Ides; the decent, beliefless puppeteer exhausted and wanting another life. The script, by Danny Strong from the book by Mark Halperin, is majestic in its quietude, and the direction, by Jay Roach, almost Scandinavian in its unjudgmental tenderness .

Wonderfully, Moore’s Palin is not so much dumb as massively uninformed. She thinks the Queen rules England, Saddam caused 9/11, her opponent is called ‘O’Biden’ and does not know what the Fed is. She can, however, if tenaciously coached, pronounce ‘Ahmadinejad’ and learn forty minutes of closely-reasoned rhetoric she expertly delivers in the Debate. A small-town beauty with a personal history of sulking, she, Marilyn-Monroe-like, has verbal glitches, hates history tutorials and frequently goes on strike. Managing Judy Garland in her final bi-polar months would have been easier, I think, and the benign unlustful patience of McCain, a torture-survivor, is both surprising and convincing.

But like Judy she can deliver, and the unfeigned love of provincial America, which is about fifty percent of it, is deeply disturbing. Had she been allowed to speak after McCain conceded she’d be the nominee now, and Steve Schmidt knew this, and made sure she didn’t. McCain warns her against energising the party nutters, and shows what a champion of old-world political civility he was/is.

Shrewdly, Blitzer, Hannity, Anderson Cooper, Dana Bash, Obama and Biden are played by themselves and Moore’s Palin (identical in any case) computer-inserted into the crowd-and-platform shots absolutely seamlessly.

The result is a new kind of American movie, both drama and documentary, with the physical resemblances and walk-on performances so exact that, as in Capote, Downfall and The Gathering Storm, you completely surrender to the fabrication with all your heart. It is almost British in its modest caution, and so quietly thrilling moment by moment that you want it never to end.

Moore will get awards for it, as Streep did for her pitch-perfect Thatcher, but Harrelson is even better as the headshaven, patient, disgusted Henry Higgins of an Eliza he can neither stir nor punish when there’s a world to win and a game to change and she won’t come into the playpen and do the work.

A marvellous film. Available, I guess, on DVD soon. For all political backroomers, a must.

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  1. hudsongodfrey

    As Sarah Silverman said, Palin is as off-putting and gross as a beauty pageant contestant, without the desire for world peace.

    I suppose they couldn’t have cast Tina Fey in the role, but damn she was funny.

    And it was word for word Palin’s actual interview.

  2. Sounds good - your pen portrait of Julianne Moore as Palin is wonderful!

  3. Bob, if I didn’t know you as a joker, I would tip you to the documentary called Capricorn One. But the text of your post does make me feel though that you did “completely surrender to the fabrication with all your heart”.

    Steve Schmidt totally stuffed the McCain campaign and with it his political future as a senior adviser – and he knew it. His advice for suspending of the McCain campaign for two weeks after the GFC hit is commonly given as the reason for the wipeout getting its momentum. Thus the self-serving attempts to wrongly blame Palin, ending up with this trash ‘Game Change’.

    Even McCain himself summed it all up well, saying that the book that the movie script is based on is “unfair and untrue.” As for the co-writer, Halperin, McCain accused him of the obvious - liberal bias.”You know something, this guy — he might as well have been a paid member of the Obama election campaign if you look at his coverage … he still is, he still is, he still is, I’m not making it up,”

    Luckily, with new media being about to break the false narrative of the political elites, we have plenty of facts to counter the lies. will give you some, but there are plenty of other sites to put you right.

    At least you saw the film first; you just know how they twist everything for effect but unlike thousands of other examples, ‘From Here to Eternity’ or even the woeful “We of the Never Never’, going for the book isn’t worth it either in this case, unless it is the sheer fiction you are after.

    • Are you once again flouting the rules of this blog, and judging a film you have not seen?

      Please answer this.

      • I am not like you, I am not on the free list.

        Anyway, I am just pointing you to some facts about Palin and the McCain campaign (and Steve Schmidt).

        Care to reassess your laughable “It is as it must have been”?

        • You cannot say it is laughable if you have not seen it, and are banned for life.

          Beginning in a year’s time.

          Do not do it again in that time and I will reprieve you.

          And, oh yes, cutting to the chase, it is clear you believe Palin would have made a good President.

          Please affirm or deny this.

  4. Never Enough Ellis

    The Palin portrayal is not unsympathetic, nor absolving of Schmidt.

    If anything, Palin’s obvious shortcomings and subsequent elevation into a role she could not possibly master, were the result of a hopeless optimism.

    What is especially interesting is Palin’s response. Battered, bruised and on the edge of self doubt, she turns spectacularly on those foolish enough to have engineered her downfall. A thoroughly human and deserving response, if occasionally misplaced.

    See it and judge.

  5. Moore is great as Palin, agreed. And Tina Fey was hilarious in the Palin send ups. But nothing is as hilarious as the real Sarah Palin and I strongly recommend the collection of her thoughts in Sarah Palin’s Greatest Hits at

    The woman is an idiot.

  6. GAME CHANGE is indeed a ripper of a politico flic. Leaves IDES OF MARCH for dead. Woody H. is prime cut steak of his time for acting chops, this being another beauty. For all of Ms. Palin’s short-comings, and they are monumental in number, I happened to be stuck for a fortnight recently where FOX News, USA was accessible, and in viewing the “Let’s Get Obama” approach to political reporting and opinion. (Until then, didn’t realise he was directly responsible for the Great Plague of Defoe’s times and just about all disasters befalling the world then on…) The FOX news was gob-smacking, more so to be faced with Ms. Pailn as THE SENSIBLE FACE of the drivel being dished out compared with her comrades in arms doing their darnedest to return America to the bosom of the Republicans.

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