The 2008 election was really the first election that took place after the full blown media explosion into mainstream society. Cable and 24 hour news stations had been around for ages but the internet had broadened the area to where information could be spread instantaneously. The technology progressed far enough so now virtually anyone could record anything they saw on TV and easily edit it and slap it on YouTube for everyone to see. If you take that power and add in something as divisive as a presidential election, you have a completely different world in how society can perceive it's candidates. They have become more like celebrities than servants to the public, open to ridicule and praise from just about anyone with the creativity and know-how to post it on the web. Before, only really Saturday Night Live and various other comedy shows would take jabs as the nominees. That point is brought up several times in Jay Roach's "Game Change" a film about John McCain's 2008 run for office in which he and Steve Schmidt chose Sarah Palin as a running mate. It is a cautionary tale about jumping into things for the wrong reasons.
Obama was seen as a superstar to McCain's team. He was winning the media war with his suave demeanor and likability with the younger generations. McCain and his senior campaign strategist, Schmidt felt they had some nice candidates lined up with Lieberman at the top of the list. Since whoever was going to win was inheriting a global financial crisis, they needed to distance themselves from the type of "old guard" people that got them into this mess. McCain being a self described Maverick needed to do something out of the box and daring to seemingly be able to compete with Obama. That is how they came up with Palin, a down home American who had pizzazz and looks. It was becoming late in the running process and they needed to find a running mate quickly. After a very brief vetting that showed no damaging history, Palin had won the spot.
Jay Roach does a good job of taking a relatively non-slanted approach to the material written for the screen by Danny Strong. Since we are so used to seeing Tina Fey's parody of Palin, it was important for Roach to never dip into that familiar territory. Fortunately, they stay above it and show Palin as not only a person, but a sort of sympathetic one at that. They casually show that Palin did not actually know much about Foreign policy, to the point where she though Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. In several key scenes, it is shown that she could not (or would not) learn possible answers to questions that would assuredly be asked by certain media members and when she tried, she failed. The new strategy became to give her lines to remember like and actress and that is where she excelled.
Julianne Moore does an exceptional job as Sarah Palin. I found myself on multiple occasions forgetting that I indeed was not watching the real person. Moore infuses her with real emotions and life. Not once did it feel like a Tina Fey parody. There were several moments where Palin would sometimes shutdown into catatonic stares and not respond to people. Moore handles these moments maturely and not like a sulking little child. Ed Harris looks the part of John McCain nicely. He does a great job of playing the nice guy yet incredibly stressed candidate. The role with the most screen time goes to Woody Harrelson's Schmidt. Not only does he bookend the film but he is in nearly every scene throughout. He does a fantastic job conveying anger and diminishing hope. There are moments of frustrating revelations and Woody wears the expressions perfectly on his face. The acting all around is the film's strength. Another strength are the set-pieces. The National Convention stages look large and authentic. The interview sets when edited into real TV footage matches perfectly.
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, using a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 codec, “Game Change” has outstanding image quality. The HD digital source boasts tremendous fine object detail from beginning until the end. Costumes and sets look vividly real. The colors of the national conventions virtually pop off the screen. Close-ups on actor’s faces shoe every pore on their faces. Some of the black levels crush every so slightly but other than that I have no complaints with the video quality.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is not as stellar as the video but it does not need to be. Dialogue is pitch perfect and never a problem to hear. The various types of music are accurately rendered. The only true tests of the track are the cheering at the conventions crowds. There you get a great sense of being surrounded by sound. This is not an aggressive mix by any means but it gets the job done nicely.
There are only two short extras on the disc. The first one is “Creating a Candidate” which delves into how the constant media circus can help shape a candidate. The second extra is short but a nice look into what parts of Halperin and Heilemann’s book they decided to use.
"Game Change" is an interesting look into what was happening behind the scenes of the McCain/Palin presidential race. It is revealing and fair at the same time. What easily could have been a parody or completely biased film ends up being insightful and nicely balanced. Some nice production values and a focus on reality help the film greatly. With a great A/V presentation and a couple of interesting, albeit light extras, "Game Change" is recommended.