I should probably admit my political bias up front: I enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama back in ‘08. That said, I’m not ashamed to confess I was equally riveted that same year by Republican candidate John McCain’s competing campaign, particularly any and all parts having to do with his running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Like most college-educated individuals – hell, any-educated individuals – I couldn’t take my confused eyes or bleeding ears off this bizarrely overconfident and suspiciously under-qualified woman who might end up our next president, should her white-haired running mate get elected and, well, croak. Matt Damon famously compared the whole scenario to “a really bad Disney movie.” To me, it was a potential horror flick. Thankfully, Obama won the election and, four years later, HBO Films has turned the near debacle into a thrilling political drama, which you can now see “from your house” on Blu-ray and DVD. My review after the jump the Game Change Blu-ray after the jump.
Winner of the 2012 Emmy® for Best TV movie, Game Change offers an insider’s look at why Palin was chosen as McCain’s running mate and relieving evidence that, yes, even those on the inside were freaked out by her lack of experience. Of course, lack of experience wasn’t exactly hurting McCain’s main competitor that year, relative political newbie Barack Obama. To compete, McCain (an amusingly wary and salty-mouthed Ed Harris) needed a “game changer”: namely, someone who would challenge the novelty of a potential first black President and benefit from the same 24-hour news and online blogosphere that had made Obama an instant star. Basically, he needed a woman. Enter Sarah Palin, the Alaskan hockey mom-turned-Governor, played by Emmy® winner Julianne Moore, who brings to the role the same curious mix of maternal warmth and thoughtless ambition that made her real-life counterpart such a fascinating figure.
Once Sarah enters the picture, McCain falls a bit to the background and his supporting staff emerge the true protagonists of the film. His staffers include senior strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson, and senior advisor Nicolle Wallace, played by Sarah Paulson, who can currently be seen fending off all manner of possessed nuns and diabolical serial killers on FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum. None of these, however, has proven quite as challenging an on-screen foil as Moore’s Palin, whom Paulson and Harrelson must whip into campaign shape.
Despite Schmidt and Wallace’s initial concerns about Palin’s lack of polish and experience, the VP nominee manages to impresses them and the party-at-large with her galvanizing speech at the Republican National Convention. Things get tricky, however, once they start prepping Palin for the VP debates. Whatever gap Palin’s nomination may have helped fill in terms of women voters, McCain’s staff must now contend with an even greater gap: that in Palin’s basic knowledge of current affairs.
If Palin’s lack of education is the first obstacle to overcome, her mercurial temperament proves a more challenging second. As Schmidt and Wallace try and teach Palin about everything from the Middle East conflict to the national economic crisis, she grows increasingly resistant and petulant. It’s easy to sympathize with McCain’s frustrated staff at this point, but the film’s greatest strength is that it makes us empathize with Palin, too. Moore has proven in the past that she can wring tears for everything from a drug-addicted porn star to a stifled ‘50s housewife, and here she makes it easy for us to feel badly for the in-over-her-head Palin. Director Jay Roach has also proven a knack for creating sympathetic villains in the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents series. Whether Palin is or was an actual “villain” is still open for debate, but back in ‘08, she certainly felt like a threat to the legitimacy of the American presidency. Can you imagine if McCain had been elected, died and left a person in charge that didn’t know why North and South Korea were two different countries?
Thankfully, Palin has faded a bit from public consciousness, or at least from mine, which begs the question: What relevance will the movie Game Change have a decade or two from now? I say absolute because, in its depiction of the 2008 campaign, the film captures the seminal moment in U.S. history when a vice presidential nominee was scouted via YouTube, her every move scrutinized online and in the news, and her family thrust into reality television fame. Game Change isn’t just a riveting political thriller; it’s a sadly honest reflection of our Internet and television-obsessed age.
Extras include two short featurettes: “Creating a Candidate,” in which political experts discuss the changing nature of presidential campaigning in the Internet age; and “Game Change: The Phenomenon,” in which the film’s creators reveal how they decided to focus solely on the “McCain and Palin” section of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” in adapting it for the screen.
Missing from the extras is a chance to hear the cast discuss playing such larger-than-life real-life characters. For now, their stellar performances will have to speak for themselves.
Picture and audio are strong on both the Blu-ray and DVD discs, although the former is clearly the standout in terms of image vividness and sound clarity.
The Blu-ray Disc features the same 1080p picture and a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio as the original high definition television broadcast. Expanded audio options, however, include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 and Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0. Subtitle options include English SDH, French and Spanish.
The DVD also features 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Audio options include English 5.1, French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0. Subtitle options include English, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese and Complex Chinese (whatever that means).
Game Change is a riveting, cautionary tale about how celebrity culture, the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle have forever changed the game of U.S. presidential elections.
Game Change has a TV-MA rating (mostly for McCain’s salty mouth) and a run time of approximately 117 minutes.