The Common Good

Movie Review: Game Change

First, let me say that this is about a movie based on real people, and I’m critiquing the movie as a piece of entertainment. This is a movie review, not a political analysis. We can do that later.

Game Change movie still, via HBO.com
Game Change movie still, via HBO.com

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Reading Game Change was a thrill for me- it was inside baseball at its best. John Heilemann and Mark Halperin are favorite authors of mine, and not only did I read this book right when it came out, I read it again when it was assigned for a class. It was that good. So to say I was excited about the movie version of this book is putting it lightly. The bar was high.

Is it my fault then that Game Change didn’t clear the hurdle for me? Nope. This happens every time you see a movie that had a book first- the book is always better.

For those of you who don’t know, Game Change follows Senator John McCain’s presidential run in 2008 during the tumultuous weeks of general election after adding Governor Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket. The movie focuses in on this facet, whereas the book branches out into the election as a whole, primary season and all.

I was looking forward to Jay Roach and Danny Strong’s second joint venture (if you haven’t seen Recount, go and find it. Seriously. I’ll wait here for you to watch it), but what I saw this round was lacking.

I can’t deny the power of Julianne Moore’s performance--she looked incredible, and her accent was spot on, even the emphasis patterns and cookoo cadence that is uniquely Palin. Moore’s portrayal is of a woman so connected to her family that she quickly dissolves under the national spotlight and descends into paranoia without their support and presence. This is a heartbreaking angle, but the no-better-than average dialogue and lackluster narrative arch for the movie as a whole overshadowed what could have been a touching, fascinating storyline.

Not so say it was a total bust: Ed Harris was perfect for McCain--the stiff shoulders and that distinctive wave were perfect, but he didn’t back it up with the character work I was expecting from such a seasoned actor. Was this a script problem? Editing? Directing? Probably a little bit of each.

Mostly, Game Change the movie didn’t connect the dots well enough--didn’t substantiate the fear, the anger, the anxiety surrounding the vetting and campaign process. There were glimpses of it, and those were perfectly lovely. A poignant moment comes to mind where Palin is standing off stage about to be announced to a huge crowd for one of the first times, and she reaches over and grabs the hand of the nearest aid. Just for the human contact. For the reassurance. It was a beautiful moment.

All together? Decent, but not incredible. B-

Maybe Roach, Strong, Halperin and Heilemann can get it right in the 2012 cycle.

Here’s hoping.

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