REVIEW: Game Change (Film – HBO Films)

Game Change is a 2012 American HBO political drama film based on events of the 2008 United States presidential election campaign, starring Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson. Written by Danny Strong and directed by Jay Roach, the film was adapted from the 2010 book of the same name documenting the campaign, written by the political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The film focuses on the chapters about the selection and performance of Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (Moore) as running mate to Senator John McCain (Harris) in the Republican presidential campaign. The plot features a 2010 interview of the campaign’s senior strategist Steve Schmidt (Harrelson), using flashbacks to portray McCain and Palin during their ultimately unsuccessful campaign. – Wikipedia

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:  I’ve made no bones in the past about my personal political views when posting on this blog but I’ve always strived to be objective with my reviews, judging television and film from an entertainment standpoint and not a political standpoint.  As I’ve mentioned several times, I have no tolerance for political soapboxes being used in dramatic scripted television, regardless of the political persuasion, because it always serves to alienate at least 50% of an audience who turn on their normal prime time fare as an escape and not to be lectured to.  Being apolitical is a rather difficult task to accomplish with Game Change because the film by its very nature is a biographical political piece, from a specific perspective.  This isn’t a David E. Kelley show with a fictional attorney grandstanding in court about a contemporary social issue, it’s a docudrama involving characters who are real people and actual historical events.

Therefore, while at the same time I recognize that the subject matter of the film gives it a free pass for its political nature that I normally wouldn’t give to other television fare, at the same time it’s only fair that I honestly assess all aspects of the film including the details that are clearly fantasy that detract from the entertainment value. So, this time, I will say that this review represents my opinion exclusively and is not necessarily the opinion of staff at TV-Tastic.  That being said, I have encouraged my staff to submit their own reviews of this film which I will gladly publish to allow our readers to make their own judgments based on different perspectives.

70 out of 100

I have to say, as an objective conservative who closely monitors the political landscape and is well-versed in current events and history, I went into Game Change with a sense of enthusiasm and trepidation for a number of reasons.  My enthusiasm came from the fact that HBO Films has always maintained a high standard with their productions so I knew that I could expect a well-produced film if nothing else.  The casting of Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore also gave the film credibility like no other HBO film has ever had.

My trepidation came from the fact that the book of the same title that the film is based on, written by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, has been roundly criticized by both sides for not citing sources for its assertions and furthermore, the filmmakers, instead of choosing to adapt the book as it was written, which was in three parts covering both political primary races and then the general election, chose to cover only the third part of the book and more specifically only the McCain campaign as it pertains to Sarah Palin.  So, you have to know where this is going and the fact that the top stars and producers of the film have donated $200,000 to Democrat/Liberal causes and ZERO to Republican/Conservative causes is also a tad bit disconcerting if you’re expecting objectivity.

And objective this film certainly isn’t, however there is just enough of a positive portrayal of Ms. Palin to present the illusion that the filmmakers were not only fair in their representation of her, but that the unattributed and unconfirmed rumors that are rampant in this film (as well as the portrayal of Republicans at McCain events) are actually factual. And that is where the film falls off the rails and fails because it paints a very disjointed picture that lacks rational cohesion.

I’m sorry, but as a rational adult,  I simply cannot buy that Ms. Palin was as stupid in regards to foreign policy/history as she is portrayed in this film. Are they seriously trying to make us believe that she didn’t understand why there are two Koreas? She really had to have it explained to her who the belligerents were in the two World Wars? She really thought that we were in Iraq because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11? Now, the issue with the Fed and Behr/Stearns, I get because I’m still trying to figure that mess out four years later but the rest of this is just as silly now as it was when the book was published.  Again, the main criticism of the book is that it cited no sources for these claims and if the filmmakers could see beyond their own political ideology and actually maintain a level of professional objectivity and integrity, they would never have included these outlandish and unproven claims.  This approach turned what was an excellent insight into the behind the scenes events of an historical presidential campaign into a tawdry, tabloidish hit-piece.  Seriously, how could she have been elected dog catcher nevertheless governor of Alaska if these assertions were true?  Unless, of course, the producers just think that the people of the State of Alaska are just as stupid, which they probably do.

The other problem that the inclusion of these, to put it politely, “questionable” claims has is that they serve to make the Palin character very inconsistent and honestly, the inconsistency gives you pause as to the believability of the material.  Julianne Moore’s portrayal is excellent, albeit at times a little over-the-top, but the way in which they had to include all of these claims makes it as if there are multiple Sarah Pailins in this film. There’s the bright, confident and strong renaissance woman and then there’s the complete f*cking idiot. In the next scene she’s portrayed as an excellent public speaker who has a unique ability to connect to the people and then she’s portrayed as an uncompromising lunatic who won’t listen to the advice that the smart people are giving her. No one can have a personality that divergent and have no one notice it that long while attaining the success that she already had achieved at that point. It’s just not possible.

I think the only truly honest moments in her portrayal were when she was shown at her most vulnerable, when she was stressed and depressed about the process, wasn’t eating well and probably more importantly than anything, missed her family.  Hell, I don’t like being away for my kids for more than a couple of hours so I can relate to that.  When the film focused on that aspect of her emotional state, the film exceled because those genuine scenes served to highlight Ms. Palin’s biggest issue of all which was that she was in way over her head and not ready to be a candidate for national office, and perhaps never will be.  But the problem is that they had to cheapen these moments by suggesting that her anxiety level was a sign that she was mentally unstable.  That’s not only offensive to Ms. Palin, but it’s offensive to the tens of millions of people who have suffered with anxiety issues and of course her anxiety was perfectly understandable considering the stress she was under.

Now, generally speaking I have no doubt that the many behind the scenes events that are portrayed in the film actually happened (and this has been confirmed by Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist who was instrumental in Palin’s selection and portrayed by Woody Harrelson in the film) because a lot of these events, without the details, were public knowledge at the time.  Quite often, Ms. Palin was her own worst enemy when it came to her image and that is accurately represented in the film, however, the film intentionally dismisses the personal beatings that she took by the media against her and her family under the guise of, “well she was warned that this would happen before she accepted the nomination.”  That’s a really lazy and intellectually dishonest position to take especially considering the vile things that were said and continue to be said about her to this day.

Remember the blogger who suggested that her newborn son Trig, was not her own and was actually the child of her 17 year-old daughter, Bristol, and how some members of the media ran with it?  Well, they do address that, but they gloss over it and don’t treat it with nearly the amount of outrage that they do over the random attendee at a McCain rally  who would spout vile things.  Again, the film has a huge credibility gap because of the blatant bias that turns what could have been a great film into only a good film.  But hey, why shoot for excellence when you can get good enough and placate the folks who think like you?

At the end of the day, though, overall, Game Change is still very enjoyable, but if you have any sense of objectivity and intellectual honesty then you have to filter out the blatant nonsense and bias that just oozes from the film.

Also, there may be unintended consequences of the film that the filmmakers probably didn’t take into consideration when they made it because they assumed that everyone who would watch it thinks the way they do.  Y’see, the main themes in the film are the dangers of not vetting a candidate and how disastrous a lack of experience can be as well as  how style is no substitute for substance.  Interposing those themes with excerpts of Obama  populist speeches may actually have the effect of making your audience think twice about voting for a candidate who has all of those same qualities again this November.

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About The Anti-Nerdist

Originally from Rochester, New York and has lived in Las Vegas, Nevada since 2003. Aside from being a huge fan of movies and television, he's a huge fan of Sci-Fi and in particular, Star Trek.
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