The HBO film “Game Change,” airing tonight, does an impressive job of creating sympathy for Sarah Palin in its portrayal of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign. It presents her VP run as a slow-motion car crash that represents what’s wrong with our electoral process. The question is: Who’s looking for such a thing?
Palin’s a political Rorschach blot, such a divisive figure that when her supporters and detractors discuss her, it’s easy to believe they’re talking about two entirely separate people. The idea that a dialogue could take place or that there’s a neutral position to take seems inconceivable.
From Palin’s camp, the objections to “Game Change” and its accuracy feel reflexive and not terribly concerned with the content; if something isn’t obviously on her side, it’s presumed it must be against her. And the two films that have been made about Palin so far, both of them nonfiction, do have obvious points of view. Nick Broomfield’s doc, “Sarah Palin: You Betcha!” dug into the dark crannies of Palin’s career to present a portrait of the former governor of Alaska as frighteningly vindictive; Stephen K. Bannon’s “The Undefeated” was an 90-minute campaign ad that positioned Palin as a new hope and a fresh political voice who unfairly maligned by the press.
“Game Change,” which was directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong, has no such clear agenda — though it’s likely that most of those who made it, and who will watch it, are no fans of its subject. It presents Palin, as eerily embodied by Julianne Moore, as a politician who’s had great success and is very comfortable on a state level; we first see her at the state fair with her children, chatting with constituents, her populism effortless and no act. But on the national level, she’s shown to be entirely out of her depth, appallingly ignorant of foreign policy and unprepared to deal with the stress of the campaign.
It’s not an attack on Palin, but it’s not flattering, and there’s an anger underlying many of the scenes in which advisors teach her about the basics of international events while she scribbles on notecards. She’s unprepared, but “Game Change” makes the convincing case that this isn’t her fault and that she took some undeserved abuse.
However, watching the film you wish it actually expressed the frustration that fuels it: You should know what you’re talking about when you run for the second-highest political position in the country. You should be educated about matters here and abroad and always be learning more. That “Game Change” attempts to be evenhanded is admirable, but it also feels needlessly restrained. Shouldn’t this be angry?