So, last weekend, HBO aired the premier of Game Change. A very loose adaption of the book Game Change by Mark Halperin and JohnHeilmann, but highly entertaining. The main focus of the book was the Democratic primary (specifically the race between Clinton and Obama).* The film was the chronicles of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Big Hollywood would like you to see this as a hit piece full of evil lies and attacks. Their definition of a lie is, apparently, anything that does not portray Sarah Palin as the Queen of All That Is Wonderful and Great is a hit piece.
Truthfully, I think the film (written by Danny Strong-Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer-and Directed by Jay Roach-director of the Austin Powers films and the first two Meet the _____ films) is really overly generous to it’s subjects. More than a few of the folks involved in the real story back up the HBO version (while many of the critics are folks not directly involved). The film ignores McCain’s long talked about temper, portraying him as a noble politico who does not want to play dirty to win. And this is the John McCain I wanted to believe in. He seemed to disappear after his November loss, replaced with a bitter and angry clone.
The film portrays Palin as human and quite sympathetic, someone thrown into a cycle they were not necessarily prepared for. I felt sympathy for Sarah Palin watching the story. She’s human with human foibles and triumphs. She clearly loves her family and has handy public speaking skills. She works hard to succeed. These are good qualities. Does the film also show her to sometimes be petty? Yeah. Lots of people-even really nice ones, can fall into that trap. She is portrayed as headstrong to a fault (her aggressive desire to give a concession speech is a good example).
The other characters fare the same treatment. Steve Schmidt (portrayed in the film terrifically by Woody Harrelson) is portrayed as a man devoted to trying to win, but a bit of a gambling risk taker who is very on board the Palin Train in the beginning, but is very exasperated by the end of it all. He is shown as a nice guy, but also aggressive to a fault and prone to angry outbursts. Schmidt has not claimed Harrelson’s performance as being inaccurate. He would have plenty of reason to, as the film shows him in some negative light. But he has defended the film’s portrayal.
Ed Harris and Julianne Moore do a great job in their respective roles, though it can be hard to not see Moore trying to steer clear of Tina Fey country and become a parody. Really, the cast is strong all the way around.
There may be questions about accuracy (with most dramatized “true stories” there are) but a hit piece this ain’t. It does not portray McCain or Palin as villains. Both are, in fact portrayed as decent people.
*A Game Change 2: Game Harder, focused on the Clinton/Obama rivalry would be interesting to see. Who would they cast?