Game Change

Game Change Information

Game Change is a 2012 American HBO political drama film based on events of the 2008 United States presidential election campaign, directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong, based on the 2010 book of the same name documenting the campaign by political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. The film stars Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris and focuses on the chapters about the selection and performance of Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (Moore) as running mate to Senator John McCain (Harris) in the Republican presidential campaign.

The plot features a 2010 interview of the campaign's senior strategist Steve Schmidt (Harrelson), using flashbacks to portray McCain and Palin during their ultimately unsuccessful campaign. The film was well received by critics, with Moore's portrayal of Palin garnering praise. Schmidt praised the film. Palin and McCain described it as false and inaccurate, though neither chose to view it. Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times describes Moore's depiction of Palin as "a sharp-edged but not unsympathetic portrait of a flawed heroine, colored more in pity than in admiration." Game Change has earned many awards, including a Critics' Choice Award, a Golden Nymph Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and five Primetime Emmy Awards.


The film opens in 2010 with a frame story, with Republican strategist Steve Schmidt being interviewed by Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes. Cooper poses a difficult question regarding former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin: was she selected because she would make the best vice president or because she would win the election?

The film flashes back to Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, which Schmidt serves as Senior Campaign Strategist. McCain's preferred running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, is rejected by the majority of his senior advisers " including Schmidt " because he will not excite the Republican base nor help compete with the celebrity of their opponent, Democratic Senator Barack Obama. The strategists quickly look for a "game change": a replacement who would tilt public excitement in their favor and attract both women and conservative voters. Investigating prominent female Republican politicians, the campaign finds Palin, the governor of Alaska, to have the charismatic qualities they want. After an exceptionally brief vetting process, she is selected. Palin's eventual public reveal creates the buzz that Schmidt and McCain were looking for, bringing them to even or better with Obama in the polls.

While Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is well received, the campaign becomes concerned that she is ignorant about many political issues and grossly unprepared. Schmidt handles controversies from her past, such as Troopergate, while other staff attempt to fill broad gaps in her understanding of domestic and foreign politics. At times she is preoccupied with her approval ratings in Alaska and the absence of her family while campaigning, eventually becoming unresponsive to advisers who begin to question her mental state. Several prominent blunders in major interviews, such as those with Katie Couric, are a source of mockery in the media and frustration in the campaign. Schmidt opines that YouTube has altered the media landscape in that Palin's gaffes are seen online repeatedly rather than being forgotten in the news cycle. Overwhelmed, Palin lashes back at attempts by Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace to give her a crash course on the major issues, instead blaming them for setting up public interviews that ultimately reveal her lack of knowledge.

In the latter months of 2008, prospects for the McCain campaign look poor. The campaign staff boosts a negative campaign against Obama's past associations with the liberal elite, which Palin supports but McCain resists. The staff also comes to accept that Palin is better at memorizing and delivering lines than she is at actually understanding issues. Thus they grudgingly prepare her for the Vice-Presidential debate by simply having Palin memorize about forty minutes' worth of talking points, which manages to get her through the debate without major incident. However, Palin's growing popularity soon overshadows the campaign; Palin becomes uncooperative, rejecting Schmidt and the rest of the campaign staff as she gains her own following. McCain, meanwhile, becomes discouraged by the negative campaigning, watching growing hostility and vitriol emerge toward Obama among McCain's supporters. With Election Day approaching, senior campaigners express regret that Palin turned out to be style without substance, with Schmidt lamenting that they neglected to vet her competency. McCain consoles Schmidt by reaffirming that taking a risk with Palin was better than fading away.

When Obama wins the election on Election Night, McCain and his advisers stop a rebellious Palin from giving a concession speech along with McCain's, claiming it was unheard of for a vice-presidential candidate. The film returns to the 2010 interview as Schmidt answers Cooper's question about whether he would pick Palin again if he had the chance to do it over. Schmidt replies that life does not give you do-overs.


Actual footage from the 2008 campaign portrayed the Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden as well as numerous reporters, including Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Dana Bash, and John King. At times, the film employed doubles and editing to make it appear that the actors were interacting with historical footage, such as in the presidential debate scenes featuring the real Obama, the real Wolf Blitzer, and Harris as McCain.


HBO optioned the book Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, in January 2010. In February 2011, development began with Danny Strong writing and Jay Roach directing, who had previously collaborated as writer and director on the 2008 HBO film Recount, about the controversial result of the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Although Strong and Roach based the film on the part of the book dealing with the McCain"Palin campaign, they had also considered a film dealing with Obama's primary battle against Hillary Clinton " an idea ultimately dropped due to the length and complexity of that story, among other reasons. Strong said he interviewed 25 people from the McCain"Palin campaign and referenced other books and articles, including Palin's memoir Going Rogue, in addition to the book on which the film was based.

The main cast was announced in March 2011, starting with Julianne Moore as Palin, Ed Harris as John McCain, and Woody Harrelson, who plays McCain campaign chair Steve Schmidt, came aboard soon thereafter. The film was primarily shot in Maryland, along with a hotel scene shot in Wilmington, Delaware. Filming was also shot and produced in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The film premiered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on March 8 prior to its public debut on HBO on March 10, 2012.



Game Change was watched by 2.1 million people on its debut night, which marks the highest ratings for an HBO original film since their 2004 film Something the Lord Made.


Palin said Game Change was based on a "false narrative" and that she did not intend to see it. The film, and the book it is based upon, has been described by John and Cindy McCain as inaccurate. Like Palin, McCain said he did not intend to see it.

However, Steve Schmidt, the campaign's chief strategist, stated: "Ten weeks of the campaign are condensed into a two-hour movie. But it tells the truth of the campaign. That is the story of what happened." He later said that watching the film was tantamount to "an out-of-body experience."

Nicolle Wallace, a chief Palin 2008 aide, said she found Game Change highly credible, saying the film "captured the spirit and emotion of the campaign." Wallace also told ABC News Chief Political Correspondent George Stephanopoulos that the film was "true enough to make me squirm."

Melissa Farman, who played Bristol Palin, said it was never the film's intention to portray Sarah Palin in a negative light because the film was not meant to be about Palin, but about "politics at large" and what it means to be a politician in this era.


Game Change received positive reviews, with 63% of the critics polled by Rotten Tomatoes giving it favorable reviews (based on 32 reviews), with an averaged score of 6.6 out of 10. Metacritic lists the film as scoring 74 out of 100, based on 25 reviews by critics, which they describe as a "generally favorable" critical response.

David Hinckley of The New York Daily News wrote, "Julianne Moore's physical Palin in Game Change, which debuts March 10, is even more dead-on than Tina Fey's." Fey, who was noted for her physical resemblance to Palin, won an Emmy Award in 2009 for her satirical impersonation of Palin on the sketch comedy TV show Saturday Night Live. Several excerpts from these impersonations were used in the film.

The Hollywood Reporters Tim Goodman says the movie "boldly raises the question about whether Palin is mentally unbalanced." He calls Moore's performance "virtuoso (and likely Emmy-winning)." Roger Ebert gave the movie three and a half stars. Entertainment Weeklys Ken Tucker gave it an A"?.

The Los Angeles Times wrote: "The overall atmosphere of the film is surprisingly kind to all, much more fatalistic than hypercritical and certainly not derisive. Palin's rise and fall is depicted as series of bad decisions made in relatively good faith that lead up to a hideous car crash." Newsday commented: "Moore's performance ... is superb. ... A luminous and fully alive portrait by a first-rate actress." The San Francisco Chronicle also praised the acting: "Game Change is graced by three extraordinary performances in the leading roles, beginning with Moore's portrayal of Palin, which is both complex and entirely credible." The Boston Globe wrote: "Whether "Game Change'' is a definitive accounting of what happened, and whether some viewers will accept it as such is unknowable. But from a dramatic standpoint is the film entertaining? You betcha."


Award Category Nominee Result
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film
Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film Woody Harrelson
Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film Ed Harris
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film Sarah Paulson
2nd Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie/Miniseries
Best Movie/Miniseries Actor Woody Harrelson
Best Movie/Miniseries Actress Julianne Moore
Golden Nymph Awards Best Television Film
Best Director for a Television Film Jay Roach
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Film Woody Harrelson
Ed Harris
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Film Julianne Moore
64th Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Miniseries or Movie Danny Strong, Amy Sayres, Steve Shareshian, Gary Goetzman, Jay Roach and Tom Hanks
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Jay Roach
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Woody Harrelson
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Julianne Moore
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Danny Strong
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Ed Harris
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Sarah Paulson
64th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special Pat Moran, David Rubin, Kathleen Chopin and Richard Hicks
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie Jim Denault
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or Movie Lucia Zucchetti
Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score) Theodore Shapiro
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or Movie Gabriel J. Serrano, Leslie Shatz and David MacMillan
28th TCA Awards Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries, and Specials
24th Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Jay Roach, Amy Sayres, Steven Shareshian, Danny Strong

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