"Game Change" Might Make You Vote Independent Review

To what do we owe the rise of Sarah Palin (played here by Julianne Moore)? More than anything, we owe it to John McCain’s (Ed Harris) last-minute second-guessing, but Game Change is smart enough to know that the story doesn’t end there. Even had a fortuitous turn of events not launched Palin to the forefront of national politics, there’s a good chance we would have heard her name at some point anyway, or seen a comparable figure rise in her place. McCain (and the American people at large) was tired of Washington morass, and was looking for a player who would shake things up; for better or worse, he got exactly that.

Any Republican nominee going into the 2008 election had his work cut out for him; rare is the two-term administration so unpopular that its members seek to distance themselves from an election for the good of the party. Furthermore, electing its first black president might prove too irresistible a redemptive moment for most Americans to pass up. If McCain was going to have a chance, he was going to have to do something bold to redefine not only his campaign, but his party, in the public eye; given what advisors such as Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) knew at the time, Palin seemed like a perfect opportunity to do just that. She had a strongly conservative legislative record, and lacked the political baggage that makes so many otherwise strong candidates unelectable. It naturally didn’t hurt that she was a woman, a mom, and had a son serving overseas.

The ensuing campaign, the fallout, and the final disappointment were all well-publicized and documented at the time, so it’s unlikely that anything in Game Change will surprise any viewers on either the left or the right, or cause them to seriously rethink their position on Palin (for her part, she was dismissive of the whole project, and vowed not to watch it). To be fair, it is in no way complimentary. The ignorance that Palin consistently displays towards even remedial topics (such as the combatants in World War Two) is shocking, and her petulance towards her handlers is never anything but petty and mean-spirited. Similarly, McCain’s lack of judgment on this point makes one wonder just what he would have done as president. But by the same token, Game mostly limits its focus to the Republican operatives who were charged with selling her to the American people, and it is through them that we experience the exhilaration and shock of her candidacy. Even if it could be perceived as a hatchet job on Palin, it is not a takedown of conservatism as a whole, which makes Schmidt’s frustration that much sharper.

To Game’s credit, that frustration comes after several moments (in particular the Vice Presidential debate) when it seemed as if the risk that they took on Palin would pay off dividends. Even after we know how the whole thing will end, her initial appeal is clear: many politicians claim to be outsiders, but Palin’s the real deal. Less a game player than a cultural warrior, she’s unwilling to compromise and unable to lose to fight another day. She’s exactly what people have been claiming for generations that Washington needs, and a totally implausible lawmaker because of it. If there’s any takeaway from Game, it’s less about Palin than the Washington establishment itself. As much as the voting public may distrust career insiders and reward those who challenge them, such people are long shots when it comes to actually getting things done. Seen from the hindsight of the 2012 election, Game Change seems to foreshadow a Republican civil war that has yet to pass. If it doesn’t, maybe people will have taken it to heart after all.


The Blu-ray contains a Digital Copy, as well as the featurettes 'Creating A Candidate" and "Game Change: The Phenomenon".

"Game Change" is on sale January 8, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Jay Roach. Written by Danny Strong. Starring Ed Harris, Julianne Moore, Ron Livingston, Sarah Paulson, Woody Harrelson, Peter Macnicol, Jamey Sheridan.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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