Jay Roach has done it again. The man most known for directing silly comedies like the Austin Powers films and Dinner For Schmucks has returned to HBO to create another memorable political thriller. He first did it in 2008 with Recount, which centered on the 2000 Florida election controversy. His latest effort, Game Change, centers on the 2008 election and the rise of Sarah Palin. With a phenomenal performance from Julianne Moore and one of the strongest scripts ever written for a tv movie from Danny Strong, this may be a tv movie for the record books.
Game Change, despite being based off a book that covers almost all of the aspects of the 2008 election, focuses solely on the McCain campaign choosing Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. While Jay Roach and Danny Strong’s choice to focus on just this one storyline seems odd on paper, it works really well on screen. Instead of an epic account (that could have easily crumbled under its own weight) of the 2008 election, we get an intimate portrayal of one of the most controversial figures in recent American history. Roach and Strong do the impossible and make a larger than life figure (Palin) seem like a believable human being with a complete story arc. While the characterization of Palin isn’t anything we haven’t seen before on television, it was smart on Strong’s part to copy from the best. This Sarah Palin has a very striking resemblance to Breaking Bad’s Walter White. The both have an ability that no one else has (Palin’s ability to attract people to her and White’s ability to cook 100% pure meth), they both have huge egos and both get involved in a shady business (politics for Palin and the drug industry for White). Of course in both cases these things do not mix well. To top off this connection there is even a scene in this film that is nearly the same as Walter White's "I Won" phone call.
However, this Sarah Palin could not be complete without Julianne Moore’s powerhouse performance. Moore has somehow made Tina Fey’s portrayal of Palin seem amateurish, and it was a smart move on Jay Roach’s part to include clips of Fey’s Palin performance to show just how much of a step up Moore’s performance is. Fey’s performance is a caricature. Moore’s is a performance for the ages. The rest of the cast struggles to keep up with Moore. Woody Harrelson is the closest thing to a male lead as a major political strategist in the McCain campaign. He is one of the few who can hold her own against Moore. The only other one who is able to do so is Sarah Paulson as a secretary for Palin. Surprisingly the weak link of the cast is Ed Harris. Harris seems to be just playing a random political figure. He makes no attempt to recreate John McCain and the makeup, hairstyling and wardrobe do no help for him either. This was a major miscasting.
By addressing complex subjects like the nature of power and celebrity, Game Change is able to rise above its tv movie roots. However, the real highlight of the film is a performance from Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin that makes you wonder why there is a need for any other portrayals of the political figure.