Last night we went to a Game Change dinner with friends to view the much talked about film that is based on the best-selling book by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The film focuses on just one part of the story, the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate and the subsequent campaign which revealed how woefully under-vetted Palin was.
As a movie, it is terrific, with great acting, starring Julianne Moore, who plays Sarah Palin so accurately (not as a Tina Fey caricature -- but rather so realistically that one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Moore's portrayal and Sarah Palin herself), Ed Harris as John McCain and Woody Harrelson as his campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, The supporting acting was also first-rate, particularly Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace the senior advisor for the McCain campaign who had to suffer as Palin's "handler." Jay Roach, the director, kept things moving at a lively pace so there was never a dull moment, an interesting film to add to his prior credits such as the Austin Powers films! The characters are so believable, Moore, Harris, and Harrelson being almost exact facsimiles of the people they portray.
So, how much is the film (and therefore the book) a facsimile of the truth? Much of the "truth" relies on the recollections of Steve Schmidt the chief strategist of the McCain/Palin 2008 presidential campaign, but Danny Strong, the screenwriter, also independently interviewed scores of people to corroborate the facts. One has to admire Schmidt for fessing up, the truth being Palin was selected for her gender and pizzazz. If she thinks North and South Korea is the same country or Britain's head of state is the Queen instead of the Prime Minister so be it. To Schmidt's credit, his regret at having gotten the Palin ball rolling led to his disclosures, particularly after Palin's Going Rogue was published, basically freeing him to talk.
An excellent follow up to seeing the film is the C-Span panel discussion on the film adaptation,consisting of the book's authors, Heilemann and Halperin, Roach, the director and executive producer, Steve Schmidt, and Danny Strong, screenwriter and co-executive producer. Particularly interesting is Roach's comments on the selection of Moore, Harris, and Harrelson, the perfect serendipity of it all. One of Roach's favorite scenes in the film is Moore as Palin watching a YouTube clip of SNL's Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin, commenting that he's hoping Palin will see Game Change, watching Moore portraying her watching Fey's portrayal. An infinity of mirrors, befitting her media star status.
For me, the film just underscores the ludicrousness of Presidential/VP candidate selection and election campaigning that seem to rely upon the gullibility of the American electorate and their susceptibility to mass persuasion. And this is not just to finger point at the GOP as the same kind of machinations undoubtedly go on in the Democratic camp. But the GOP primaries have been especially transparent in this regard, a stain on the democratic process.
When Palin was picked nearly four years ago, I wrote: "If, indeed, the VP selection is the most critical decision of a Presidential wannabe, McCain demonstrates how seriously deficient his judgment may be. Given his age and his prior health problems, I think we, the voters, have to consider Governor Palin’s credentials as if she is running for the Presidency.....No doubt Sarah Palin is a bright, hard-working person – she certainly seems to come across as such in the media, but to possibly cast her in the role of the President of the United States seems to be just downright irresponsible by Senator McCain and as politically calculated, and demonstrating bad judgment, as some of his television ads." Game Change just reinforces what I believed at that moment.
The film concludes with the not so prophetic remark of Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, "she'll be forgotten in a couple of days." But we all know the rest of the story. And the film, Game Change is a game changer in that it's probably all true, quite unlike much of politics itself.