Game Change, a controversial political drama that tells the story of Senator John McCain's decision to make Alaska Governor Sarah Palin his candidate for the vice presidency in 2008, accomplishes three rare feats. First of all, the film successfully and credibly captures very recent political events in an entertaining way. Based off the book of the same title penned by Washington insiders Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, there was reason to think Game Change would fail. The book itself was written shortly after the 2008 election and the film was produced shortly thereafter, which created the possibility that not enough time had passed to successfully create an enjoyable narrative about recent events. The book's authors, the screenwriter who adapted the book, and directing veteran Jay Roach all succeed in keeping the film generally true to life but also entertaining. Meanwhile, often times it is distracting to see current political figures depicted by well known actors, but Julianne Moore and Ed Harris successfully pull off Sarah Palin and John McCain.
The second surprising accomplishment of Game Change is that it is a quality film that went straight to television, in this case to HBO, rather then to movie houses. It is very likely that major studios balked at the notion of putting out this film based on the concerns articulated above. But HBO took a chance and hired big guns to direct and act, and major studio heads are probably kicking themselves now as a result. Perhaps the fact that the film's protagonist, Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson), is a wonky, borderline unlikable political consultant is a reason the film couldn't find a home on the big screen. Regardless of political affiliation, audiences don't often sympathize with political hacks. Again, however, Jay Roach and his A-list actors thread the needle and create a compelling depiction of those memorable events.
Finally, Game Change works well as a political drama because it's narrowly focused and it's nor particularly biased (despite some accusations to the contrary). The movie does not take on the entire scope of the 2008 presidential campaign. Barack Obama, for example, is not a character in this film. The movie focuses on the stunning selection of Palin as John McCain's running mate and the events that transpired inside the Republican campaign following that moment.
And the film truly does paint both McCain and Palin in a sympathetic light. Sure, there are some jabs at some of Palin's gaffes, and the film does try to depict its characters as real people with their warts and all, but one walks away from watching Game Change feeling informed, entertained, and certainly aware of the fact that to some degree McCain and Palin were taken for a risky ride -- albeit one McCain could've prevented -- by allowing political consultants to make an impulsive and bold move to try to tilt the election away from the extremely popular candidacy of Barack Obama.