If Sen. McCain’s choice of the largely unknown Alaska Gov. Palin as his veep choice seemed out of nowhere then, there’s good reason: Because it pretty much was. McCain, here played by Ed Harris (Man on a Ledge), wanted Sen. Joe Lieberman, but was talked into someone “more transformative” by hired gun Steven Schmidt (Woody Harrelson, Rampart).
At that point, so pressed for time was the McCain campaign, Palin (Julianne Moore, Crazy, Stupid, Love) wasn’t vetted properly. For example, she informed Schmidt and company of her daughter Bristol’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but not of her husband’s membership in Alaska’s secessionist party. Nor the extent of her political knowledge — or lack thereof — as she doesn’t know why there’s a North and South Korea, what the Federal Reserve is, or who ordered the 9/11 attacks (she says Saddam Hussein).
While facts were not Palin’s strong point, acting was. Once the campaign just let her be her, McCain’s journey toward the White House got back on track … but at the expense of McCain, who no longer could control her power grab. About all he could do is say “fuck” an awful lot (in stark contrast to her one and only curse word: “flippin’”).
To that extent, Harris’ McCain is pretty much a beer-drinking cartoon. That’s not the actor’s fault; that’s all the script gives him to do. He’s a supporting player to the tug of war between Schmidt and Palin. Harrelson is strong as expected, but Moore is stronger — so much so that I literally forgot I was watching her. Naturally, she’s best portraying the side of Palin we’ve never seen: so stressed, she’s increasingly catatonic, and not from her constant consumption of Diet Dr Pepper.
While Moore proves the best choice for the role, the scenes of the behind-the-scenes reactions to Palin’s speeches and debates are the definition of forced, from “She’s incredible!” to “Now I know why they call her Sarah Barracuda!” Lines like those keep Game Change, premiering Saturday, at that made-for-TV level, despite that top-drawer talent. It’s good, but not transformative good. —Rod Lott