You know the rest. Palin survived her debate with Joe Biden, but disastrous media interviews with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson, endless jokes and parodies on late-night television and YouTube, and her increasingly erratic behavior on the campaign trail sealed McCain's fate among moderate and independent voters. By the end of the campaign, even Palin's own press secretary couldn't bring herself to vote.
Julianne Moore certainly looks the part (though, as some have joked, she probably isn't quite as attractive as the real Palin). But her portrayal is not just an imitation - the candidate is ruthlessly ambitious, but also overwhelmed by the media attention and devoted to her family, especially her young son with Down's Syndrome. When she meets other Down Syndrome children and their parents on the campaign trail she is genuinely touched, and when she hears vicious rumours about little Trig not being her child, it's hard not to feel sorry for her. (Maybe I'm giving the filmmakers too much credit, but I'd like to think these scenes were included as a rebuke to Palin conspiracy freaks like Andrew Sullivan.)
Ed Harris is also terrific as McCain, who was reluctant to roll the dice on Palin (he wanted his friend Joe Lieberman as a running mate) and becomes increasingly concerned about the direction his once-honourable campaign has taken, especially when supporters scream about Obama being a "terrorist" and a "Muslim" at campaign events. As with Palin, the film's portrayal of McCain is more sympathetic than I expected.
Woody Harrelson, as Schmidt, is really the central character of the film. Indeed, it was Schmidt who disclosed much of the material about McCain and Palin that made it into the book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, on which this film was based.
Which brings me to my only real problem with the movie. Game Change is briskly paced and compelling, with typical HBO-quality production values. (Director Jay Roach, best known for the Austin Powers movies, and his editors do a great job mixing the actors and real cable-news footage from the 2008 campaign.) But what about the rest of the book?