Game Change (Blu-ray Review)

Featuring an all-star cast lead by Academy Award nominees Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris, Game Change revisits a defining moment in U.S. politics with a searing, behind-the scenes look at John McCain’s beleaguered 2008 presidential campaign – from the decision to select Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a running mate to the ticket’s ultimate defeat in the general elections.  Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film examines the chain of events that determines the leadership of the country, ultimately offering a unique glimpse into the inner workings of how we choose our leaders. It pulls back the curtain on the intense human drama surrounding the McCain team, the critical decisions made behind closed doors and how the choice was made to bring Palin on the ticket.


Based on the book Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, this version of the events that occurred during the 2008 presidential campaign gives us a sympathetic portrayal of the main players in the McCain camp, especially of his eventual Vice Presidential pick Sarah Palin.   As played by Julianne Moore, Palin is given a fair and objective portrayal that brings out her humanity and shows her strengths and weaknesses.  We get to see the McCain campaign slowly unravel in a compressed time-frame from her nomination to the election and along the way we see some highlights of why it all went downhill.

The film opens with McCain strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) being interviewed by Anderson Cooper and he’s asked about Palin which triggers a flashback to just before Palin was selected as a running mate.  At that point, McCain (Ed Harris) wanted to select Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate, but Schmidt and the rest of his advisers think that Lieberman’s past as a democrat will be poison with their Republican base.  McCain wants someone that will shake up the polls while Schmidt and Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) want someone with enough charisma to challenge the celebrity that Barack Obama enjoys.  They also are interested in finding a conservative woman that might draw females away from Obama and it’s not long before Davis discovers that Sarah Palin seems to be the answer to their prayers.

They are so excited that they don’t really vet Palin as they should have since she seems to be exactly what they’ve been looking for and because they assume that the vetting process has already been done properly.  So Palin gets the nomination and in the beginning she brings excitement and everything else they dreamed of to the campaign.   Thanks to her, the polls show that their campaign has finally broken even with Obama’s campaign and is poised to take the lead.  The only problem is the fact that Palin is getting harder and harder to control the more popular she gets.  Her unpredictability can work both ways however, as she can still pull off appearances like she does at the Republican National Convention where she defies all odds and comes off looking good despite not really knowing much more than her talking points that she memorized.

As more reporters start questioning her with more detailed questions about domestic and foreign policy, Palin’s limitations become more and more evident and she is well aware of it.  She takes her frustration out on her aids, including Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) who demands to not have to work with Palin any more.  Schmidt and the others try to give Palin lessons to improve her knowledge, but it’s a futile effort because a combination of her pride and anger ruin whatever possibility she had to learn all of the information needed.  Palin seethes with anger as her image starts taking hits from late night comics and from a dead on impersonation by Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live.”

In fact, we even see Palin watch Fey lampoon her and Moore helps us empathize with her plight as she skillfully shows a vulnerability in Palin that isn’t shown often.  With Palin unraveling, the campaign goes down with her, especially when McCain starts making poor choices himself like suspending his campaign to return to Washington without a real plan.  At the end, Palin goes rogue (a moniker that she proudly adopts later) and starts doing whatever she wants despite Schmidt’s wishes.  Even when they lose the election, her and Schmidt have a final battle over how much coverage she will get during the concession speech.  By this point, Palin is only looking out for herself and trying to position herself for the future which leads us back to the opening scene where Schmidt is still trying to answer if Palin was the right choice.

Game Change was nominated for five Golden Globes and just won three of them including, Best Television Film, Best Actress (Moore), and Best Supporting Actor (Harris).  It was also nominated for seven Emmys and won four of them, including Outstanding Movie, Outstanding Actress )Moore), Outstanding Writing (Danny Strong), and Outstanding Directing (Jay Roach).  It’s easy to see why it’s done so well this award season as every person cast in this does an incredible job making their portrayals accurate and human.  The directing and writing are also excellent and they walked a fine line in keeping the movie non-partison which I’m sure was hard to do.  Every person portrayed in this movie is shown with all of flaws and potential which gives the whole thing a more realistic and tragic feel.

We may not agree with everything these people do, but we can understand and empathize with them, which I believe is the whole point of making a movie like this.  This feels very real and it’s very interesting to anyone interested in modern day politics where 24 hour news cycles and YouTube have changed how the game is played forever.  Mistakes are now broadcast around the world and never go away which adds an entirely new level to the elections that can destroy careers and plans across the board.  By turning the mirror on not only Palin, but also on our entire election process, this movie makes some very pointed observations that should trigger a fresh look at how elections happen in this country and provide the impetus for voters to make some changes.


Game Change’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer offers a sharp looking presentation that contains true to life colors and hardly anything to detract from it.  Detail is very sharp and crisp with fine textures that look clean free of any anomalies.   Colors also look very nice and lifelike and each of them is well defined.  Flesh-tones look natural and consistent throughout the movie and the black levels are suitably dark and solid.  The only weak parts of this transfer are from the actual news reports and other archived footage which doesn’t look as good as the rest of the movie, but that’s entirely expected.  HBO has done a very nice job with this transfer!


Game Change’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is another solid effort but for a movie like this it’s easy to overlook since movies like this that are primarily dialogue driven don’t usually offer too many notable audio experiences.  That being said, this dialogue comes across distinctly no matter the venue it’s being spoken in.  For all of the crowd scenes, the arenas, and the conference rooms, the dialogue is always intelligible.  The rear channels don’t get much action until near the end of the film, but when called upon they deliver.  For a movie like this, this mix does the job nicely.


I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed with these extras.  They are both very short and there’s not very many of them. The only upside to them is the fact that they’re interesting and in high definition.

  • Creating a Candidate – I was really looking forward to this extra as I thought it was going to go deep into the actual history and the making of the film.  Instead, it’s an under ten minute look at the election process with some knowledgeable people.  We hear from “Game Change” co-authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, editor John Harris, political strategist Ed Rollins, political analyst Gloria Borger, correspondent Karen Tumulty, correspondent Dana Bash, and more.  They talk about what’s involved to run for higher office in these modern times and what kind of sacrifices will have to be made to even just run for office.  It’s all interesting but far too brief.
  • Game Change: The Phenomenon – This is even shorter than the previous extra and with a running time of about four minutes don’t expect too much.  Once again we hear from the writers and some of the cast and crew as they talk about translating the book to the screen.


Game Change is a very good look at the 2008 election even though it focuses on just a small part of it.  Julianne Moore is excellent as Sarah Palin and she nicely captures the woman with all of her flaws, her strengths, and her humanity.  The rest of the cast is also strong in their roles with Ed Harris providing a warm and bemused McCain who can’t seem to catch a break, and Woody Harrelson is funny to watch just how frustrated he grows thanks to Palin going rogue.  This is a great movie across the board and this Blu-ray offers some excellent video and audio quality.  It’s a shame that there’s not more extras and that what was included wasn’t longer, but that’s the only weak area in this presentation.  Overall, this is an easy movie to recommend!

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