‘Game Change’: Critics react to Sarah Palin movie

March 12, 2012

Sarah Palin might be in favor of labeling the HBO film “Game Change,” based on the book of the same name, fiction, but after the movie’s debut Saturday, she might want to call off her PR team: Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever says the film, which stars Julianne Moore, presents a sympathetic view of the then-governor:

The movie seems to want you to realize that there’s a human being there, someone who could use a break from the scorn and expectation heaped upon her. In fact, all the major players in “Game Change” could have done a lot worse when it comes to being depicted by Hollywood: Sen. John McCain; his 2008 campaign staff; the election industry; the voracious media; the Palin clan. Nobody comes off looking so great, but there are also no real monsters. (Monstrous behavior, sure.)

Instead, the film’s most scathing indictment is a symbolic one: It attacks our mutual inability to communicate.

How on Earth, in a nation so technologically gifted and an age so flush with instant information, can we remain so woefully uninformed, willfully dissonant and bad at knowing one another? How could everyone in a presidential campaign manage to believe that somebody else had vetted the Alaska governor for the GOP presidential ticket? How can someone aspire to being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office without a firm grasp of basic history and current events? How did magical thinking become our default setting?

Post opinion writer Jonathan Capeheart also spoke positively of Ed Harris’s dignified portrayal of Sen. John McCain.

In the movie, McCain’s statesman-like nature came through at key moments. He refused to make Rev. Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright an issue against Obama during the campaign. That would have been a not-so-subtle play on racial animus. And when he did later green-light the use of Bill Ayers as a campaign issue, you could see the look of shock and horror on his face at what doing so meant. Shouts of “terrorist,” “Muslim” and “kill him” in reference to Obama poisoned the atmosphere at the time. That he later tamped down the fiery responses of his supporters was great. But, as I wrote at the time, his chilling dance with the dark side went on longer than it should.

Nevertheless, the reaction from the right before and after the debut of “Game Change” has been swift and strong, according to The Fix.

SarahPAC is out with its own trailer rebutting the film, “Game Change We Can Believe In,” saying the film “presents a history that never happened.”

Palin’s version uses clips from her 2008 convention speech along with praise from members of McCain’s team to argue that she gave the campaign a much-needed boost. In an e-mail promoting the video, her team urges HBO to label the film “fiction.”

(It’s worth noting that two of the aides featured in SarahPAC’s trailer — Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace — say they found the movie to be accurate.)

McCain told Jay Leno that he wouldn’t watch the film: “I heard enough about the book that it’s taken from — unattributed quotes, unnamed sources. But it’s a free country.”

Although the film’s subjects didn’t watch, plenty of others tuned in, in droves: The film’s premiere at the Newseum in Washington brought in journalists and politicos on the blue carpet, who were all eager to see themselves on the big screen. Writes Post staff writer Dan Zak:

Midway through “Game Change,” Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson, says, “The news is not meant to be remembered. It’s just entertainment.”

The Newseum, a grandiose monument to remembering the news, hosted the premiere of the HBO film on Thursday night in what was essentially a hall of mirrors: An insidery movie adapted from an insidery book was shown to an insidery audience of Obama staffers and political journalists, who chortled as they recognized themselves, their colleagues and their rivals onscreen.

“He really captured the character — although he was playing him maybe four years younger than me,” joked Wolf Blitzer, referring to the stock footage of him that pads the two-hour telepic about the implosion of the 2008 John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign.

Zak also talked to the stars of the film about what game change they would recommend for the current election. Their suggestions ranged from the practical to the fantastic:

Danny Strong, who adapted the book for HBO, thinks that the 2012 game change could be “a brokered convention,” he said. “I want to see thatmovie. I bet you we would end up with a candidate that's not in the race right now."

When asked what game change 2012 could use, Mark Halperin, political analyst and co-author of the book the film is based upon, replied: “A Martian invasion.”

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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