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Game Change on HBO

First things first: I read the book “Game Change” in 2010, and this is not “Game Change”. The John Heilemann and Mark Halperin political chronicle has a cover that reads, “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime”. Its 400 plus pages zeroes in on the entire 2008 United States presidential election and it is a crackling thriller of a read. The 2012 HBO film is a shade under two hours and has one focus only…Sarah Palin. Oh, John McCain is represented too, but he’s just a supporting player to the main attraction. And director Jay Roach has a ringer for the former Governor of Alaska…who is not named Tina Fey.                Julianne Moore is probably going to nab an Emmy for her portrayal of Sarah Palin, and I will be among her cheering section. Ms. Moore deserved a Best Actress Oscar for her work in Todd Haynes’ 2002 film, “Far from Heaven” and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” in 1997, but won neither. She’s been nominated 4 times total and has been ignored completely for a handful of other works. Moore is easily among our finest film actors. And Julianne accomplishes something with “Game Change” that I thought almost impossible. She made me feel sorry for Sarah Palin. I am the polar opposite of Ms. Palin politically and I was enthusiastic about the hatchet job that I thought “Game Change” would be. It only took a couple of scenes centered around the girl from Wasilla for me to realize what a terrible track that would have been to take. We’ve run the course on that road(the aforementioned Ms. Fey ably taking the reins back in ’08), and there is really not much point in going there again. So, Moore sidesteps the mockery and makes Palin a human being. It was a wise choice. I’ve never liked Sarah P so much. And I pretty much despise everything she represents. That acting accomplishment alone deserves an Emmy in my world.               All the hits are played here. The 2008 Republican National Convention acceptance speech, the eventual Saturday Night Live spoof skits, the better-than-expected debate face-off with Joe Biden, and(of course)the one that really sunk Palin—the Katie Couric interview. But it also shows how an unprepared Alaskan Governor was thrown to the wolves on a national stage. How many would be ready for that when plucked from near-obscurity? Palin was chosen—it was not the other way around. And early on she actually rose to the occasion and got treated like a rock star. The crowds adored her. And being a former beauty queen didn’t hurt her appeal. There are very touching moments enacted of Sarah missing her baby while on the campaign trail and then also spending extra time at rallies with children who have Down’s syndrome(Ms. Palin’s youngest child is afflicted with this). These portions of the film reminded me that Sarah Palin is a mother—and a person of some impressive achievements of her own making. I would not vote for her for dog-catcher, but I felt for her. Especially when the film has Ms. Moore as Palin holding the face of a teenage boy with Down’s, and says to him she wants to see how handsome her boy is going to be when he grows up.               Of course, time marches on. And the campaign strategies and the crowds get rowdier and uglier. The lynch mob mentality soon takes over at events with citizens screaming “terrorist!” and “he’s a Muslim!” when referring to Barack Obama. John McCain(represented by the superb Ed Harris)and campaign strategist Steve Schmidt(Woody Harrelson)are shown as being horrified by this development. Eventually, a power-mad Palin stops listening to anyone at all, culminating with the McCain/Palin election night loss when Sarah wants to give a vice-presidential concession speech—even though she’s told it has never been done in the history of American politics. It shows her keep pushing for it…until McCain himself has to tell her no. All this from a woman who just a few weeks earlier nearly had a nervous breakdown(according to the film)when preparing for her lone debate appearance.               It may only serve up a portion of the book, but the “Game Change” film is compelling and quite effective. The framing device of Harrelson’s Steve Schmidt being interviewed by Anderson Cooper didn’t seem necessary, but it is otherwise a sharp screenplay from Danny Strong. Director Jay Roach(who also helmed HBO’s 2008 “Recount” about the Presidential Election of 2000)appears to have a knack for this stuff. And Julianne Moore makes it all sing. She is attractive, real, subtle, charming and vulnerable in a performance that avoids outright impersonation. And it’s a Sarah Palin you may never see again.          Grade:  B+

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