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Game Change

Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Sarah Paulson

(US DVD: 8 Jan 2013)

Julianne Moore Vanishes Under the Skin of Sarah Palin

The night of 6 November 2012, former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, appeared on Fox News to condemn the reelection of Barack Obama. She advised her followers not to despair and established that Obama’s reelection meant “[a] setback to our economy” as well as an obstacle in appointing Supreme Court justices who would adhere strictly to the traditional interpretation of what the Constitution established.


There were several disturbing elements about Palin’s statements, which proved she’s one of the most charming communicators in recent American politics—even if the messages she endorses are fascistic, to say the least—but none were as chilling as her confident smile; the same warm look that made millions of Americans rally behind her cause to restore her home country to an ultra conservative state where God and State went hand in hand.


There was always something very childish, delusional even, about the way in which Palin thought her smile would make things better and on 6 November 2012, she also had that glimmer in her eye, that vague but confident look that often reminds us that this woman was probably not living on the same planet as the rest of us. That seductively innocent look is creepily perfected by the extraordinary Julianne Moore, who plays Palin in HBO’s Game Change.


The movie takes place over the months leading to the 2008 election and roughly chronicles the time when Palin was chosen by Republican campaign strategists to be running mate in Senator John McCain’s (Ed Harris) presidential bid. The film, based on an eponymous book written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, makes us wonder if Palin was chosen because she would help Republicans win the election or if she was in fact the best person for the job. Despite the liberal talent behind the scenes, the film remains wonderfully apolitical and approaches Palin’s case with true fascination. Instead of poking fun at this notorious woman it humanizes her, leading us to wonder what we might have done had we been in her position.


The superb screenplay by Danny Strong reveals Palin to be a woman loyal to her beliefs and family, who was victim of the ambition of clever political strategists who had no idea what they were playing with. We’ve seen this story before, whether it’s in moralistic fables or even in Frankenstein, as the wise doctor gives life to a creature it later can’t control. In Palin’s case, we’re offered a prescient parable about the way in which celebrities are created in order to cater to specific demographics. When we first see the campaign workers trying to find an appropriate vice president for McCain, they don’t seem interested in whether this person is educated or not, but on whether this person can match Obama’s “rock star” quality.


Strong’s screenplay is so well layered that at times it makes us forget we know what the outcome of the story will be. He makes Palin seem like such a failure-proof choice that we wonder how she ended up losing, especially when you consider she would’ve succeeded two of the most shocking presidential campaigns in history. The truth is, that regardless of one’s personal political beliefs, Palin proved to be an appealing figure that managed to charm people whether it was because of her strong Christian values, her pro-life worldview, her undeniable physical attractiveness, or that enigmatic factor which forced us to wonder if she was as ignorant as she seemed and if her “ignorance is bliss” attitude could work for us, too.


Palin became an object of media fascination after Tina Fey famously parodied her in Saturday Night Live and there are several, truly wonderful scenes in Game Change where we see Palin watching these clips. The look in her eyes is of someone who’s truly been hurt, and who more than anything wants to prove everyone how wrong they are. It’s that same barely-there look that Palin has mastered nowadays as she rallies Tea Party members towards the promise of a better America.


It sounds harsh to say that Moore humanizes Palin, because all Stepford jokes aside, Palin is indeed a human being, and according to Game Change, one that might’ve been victim to an irresponsible political plan, but Moore actually allows us to empathize with this woman and for a minute or two look past her ignorant remarks and see her as someone trying to hold on to the spotlight using her well manicured claws. Game Change won’t change your political views and radical conservatives will most likely deem it an offense to the reputation of their newfound heroine, but the movie keeps all sensationalism away, instead focusing its intentions on reminding us of the dangers that lie in the modern notion that politics are merely a game.


Game Change is presented by HBO in a wonderful blu-ray set which also include DVD and digital copies. The film is presented in high definition and offers an array of subtitles and languages (this movie should truly be seen by people the world over). Bonus features are limited and include a couple of featurettes, one of which explores the way in which political candidates are tailor made for the media (according to this a practice which began after Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and which begs to have a longer documentary made about it) and another which explores Game Change’s transition from book to screen.

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Jose Solís wanted to be a spy since he was a child, which is why by day he works as a content editor and by night he writes and dreams of film. Although he doesn’t travel the world fighting villains, his mission is to trek the planet from screen to screen. He has been writing about film since 2003 and regularly contributes to The Film Experience and PopMatters. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.


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