For better or worse, it's almost impossible to think about politics today without thinking about Sarah Palin.  The HBO movie Game Change, adapted from the book of the same name, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the selection, rise, and problems of this influential woman.

Game Change begins in 2008, when John McCain (Ed Harris) has just won his party's nomination for president.  Unfortunately, he trails Barack Obama by wide margins in the polls.  Campaign Manager Steve Schmit (Woody Harrelson) thinks Obama's success is a matter of style over substance and, in the era of YouTube, they need something different than another white male vice president selection to win.

Schmit's search leads him to Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore), a relatively unknown Alaska governor.  At first, she seems perfect: She's a religious, pro-life, pro-gun woman whose core beliefs will energize the Republican base.  She does a great job connecting with people on the campaign trail, her introduction at the Republican National Convention is akin to that of a rock star, and she raises massive amounts of money for the party.

Unfortunately, the quick vetting Palin recieved missed many of her problems.  She shows an amazing ignorance of politics, both domestic (not knowing what the Fed is) and foreign (not knowing Britain's politics are handled by the Prime Minister, not the Queen).  She's unprepared for the harshness of a national campaign, she's more concerned with her poll numbers in Alaska than nationally, and when she seems to outshine McCain she ignores any advice or suggestions from her campaign staff.

Much of these behind-the-scenes details about the 2008 campaign were already known -- from the original book to reports during the campaign -- so there's little that's surprising or a revelation in Game Change.  This is a pity, given the amazing quality of the acting here.  Moore doesn't just look exactly like Palin, but also brings forth her strengths and weaknesses.  With her performance, it's easy to understand both Palin's rapid popularity and the concerns she raised by anyone who got beneath the surface.  Ed Harris does a fine job making McCain the more pragmatic and experienced politician, while Woody Harrelson shines as the campaign expert becoming more and more exasperated trying to handle the vice-president pick with far more baggage than anyone expected.

The most meta scene in Game Change is when Moore-as-Palin lies in a hotel room, watching bitterly as Tina Fey-as-Palin makes fun of her on Saturday Night LiveGame Change won't end the debates over Palin -- liberals will hail it as revealing truths, conservatives will damn it as a partisan attack -- but it is an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the campaign -- and the person who changed politics.

(The dvd includes two too-brief features where newsmen and political strategists describe the tremendous difficulties of being in a presidential campaign.)

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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