Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Game Change

Film #380

THE PLOT

Follows John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, from his selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate to their ultimate defeat in the general election.

Year 2, Film #15

THE REVIEW: Two political movies in a row; it’s like I can see the White House from where I am. If you couldn’t tell by that statement, or the plot description above, today’s film Game Change is about John McCain’s 2008 Presidential election and in particular, his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Like last night’s film about the economic disaster, Game Change also uses your knowledge of recent events, or lack thereof, to form the basis. But, it’s also able to transform a story we’re all familiar with into a roller coaster ride that will definitely make you think about, if not change, your opinion on Sarah Palin.

A point that is made a few times throughout the film is that in today’s day-and-age, we live in a 24-hour news cycle but also that after 48-hours a story is usually forgotten. While I would argue that 48-hours seems incredibly short, the basic argument I believe is a good one. Case in point, pretty much the only thing I remember about the 2008 Presidential campaign besides the candidates, is the SNL skits mocking debates and interviews and even those have been reduced to a mere CliffsNotes version of what they were. So as with Too Big to Fail, one of the things I enjoyed the most about Game Changewas being able to experience the election again in a surprising amount of detail and an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes developments. I wasn’t aware that McCain was an underdog early on in the primaries, nor that his slogan was “Country First”, nor that Joseph Lieberman was supposed to be his Vice Presidential nominee, nor that he’s seemingly more independent than conservative. To anyone who actually remembers, these examples may not seem impressive but they’re quite important for another reason: establishing credibility. Credibility not only in the sense that yes, this is indeed a non-fiction story, and it’s not a fictionalized what-if scenario crafted for the screen. But credibility also in the sense that the smaller details, more so than the big ones like other possible Vice Presidential nominees, are there as well and when looked at as a whole, it’s an immersive story; like you’re there being a part of it.

Speaking of accuracy and believability, a large part of this film is obviously the two candidates: Senator John McCain (portrayed by Ed Harris) and Governor Sarah Palin (portrayed by Julianne Moore). If the details of the story make the film feel like you’re a part of it, the incredible performances by Harris and Moore in addition to the hair and makeup department make it feel like the two are sitting right next to you as you watch it. Every bit about how they look, act, and speak is a perfect representation of who McCain and Palin are. Some quick searching led me to this article which has great side-by-side comparisons of the actor and the person and for both McCain and Palin, but especially Palin, they look like the same person. Harris gets all the little facial ticks like McCain’s smile I remember seeing so often and Moore is just phenomenal. Many people praise Tina Fey for her impersonation of Sarah Palin on SNL, and it is indeed a rather remarkable impersonation, but she has nothing on Moore who feels like she is Sarah Palin.

But the best part about Game Change and what I enjoyed so much is how I felt watching the film. Again, I was familiar with some of the more basic facts about the story – McCain chooses Palin, they lose to Obama and Biden – but even something as general as the journey and evolution of the campaign is something I wasn’t really aware of. Going into the film, I thought there was nothing to like about Palin. All I knew was the media and many people I know thought Palin was a joke of a choice because she didn’t know anything. The SNL skits that I’ve mentioned constantly in this review are a great indicator of that. (Side note: they were incorporated extremely well in this film). But there was stuff to like about her and many saw at least a glimmer of light in her. For example, her moving speech at the Republican National Convention or the decisive win against Joe Biden in the Vice Presidential debate. She could be a real people-person who could get to the heart of who the everyday, average American is. Sure, there’s a lot of craziness and stupidity in her as well (almost no foreign policy knowledge, unaware of some domestic issues as well) but what’s so great about Game Change is how it contrasts these two sides. Early on I was blown away by how intelligent and great Palin seemed until very quickly I realized why many didn’t like her. And this swayed back and forth between positive and negative, and while I’m sure a lot was dramatized or enhanced to make a great film, it felt like it stayed true to reality and that makes for an even better story.

My only real complaint about Game Change would be that I want to see more. From Ed Harris’ and Juliane Moore’s absolutely stellar performances as John McCain and Sarah Palin, to the incredible attention to detail and education potential, to the great drama that it provides in regards to Palin’s personality and likability, Game Change is a terrific film. And it’s not something you need to be a political science major to appreciate. I’m sure not. It’s an entertaining and informative film; plain and simple. 

THE RATING: 5 out of 5