Based in part, on the best-selling book by political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Game Change chronicles the decision to pair 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain with then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Originally aired on HBO in March of 2012, it may be difficult for audiences not to view Game Change through the prism of their own political views.

The original book was as much about the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but the film focuses entirely on the ups and downs of the McCain/Palin campaign. According to director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong—who previously collaborated on HBO’s Recount—they decided to put the Obama/Clinton drama aside because they worried that the film would play out too much like a campaign commercial [given how close it was to the 2012 election].

Game ChangeDesperate to reinvigorate a flagging campaign, John McCain’s chief political strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) realizes he has to find a running-mate to counter the movie star polish of Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. “We need to create a dynamic moment in this campaign or we’re dead,” Schmidt declares. The campaign seeks out a true “game-changing” running-mate. While a majority of female probables are moderate and generally support abortion rights, Governor Palin (Julianne Moore) is passionately anti-abortion and she comes across fabulously on YouTube. Schmidt is convinced Palin is destined to be a star.

Unfortunately, in their rush to shake things up, campaign insiders barely vet Palin, largely taking her at her word that she understands enough about the economy, domestic issues and foreign policy. It’s not long before Steve Schmidt realizes that Palin is as much a liability as an asset to McCain. On the stump, she wins the hearts of many voters with her plain spoken rhetoric. However, when she’s forced to demonstrate even the basics of policy, she’s totally lost. Things go from bad to worse when during an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric, Palin isn’t able to name even one newspaper she reads daily. Schmidt searches for a way to stop the bleeding: don’t expect her to learn the issues, but give her a script. Palin does surprisingly well in her debate with Joe Biden; infused with confidence she disregards the campaign script and goes rogue.

Performances in the leading roles are uniformly excellent. Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Sarah Palin is both complex and credible. While the hair, make-up and costumes go a long way to transforming Moore into the former Alaska Governor, the actress really nailed Palin’s nuances; the way she talks, walks and her facial expressions. Woody Harrelson turns in another notable performance. His Steve Schmidt is clearly the smartest guy in the room, but his zealous determination to guide John McCain to the Presidency, blinds him to the problems that bringing Sarah Palin on the ticket will create. By the time he realizes the campaign’s folly, it’s far too late to change course.

Ed Harris is one of the finest actors working today. While McCain has a deeper speaking voice, Harris seems to become the Senator. If we are to believe the film, McCain became a victim of his own civility. Whenever someone wants to inject dirty tricks into the campaign, McCain steadfastly refuses, reiterating his desire to run a clean campaign. Even so, one wonders whether McCain should have left such an important job—the handling of his Vice Presidential pick—to his campaign staff. If there’s any sort of problem with Palin, he doesn’t want to deal with it himself.

In reality, both McCain and Palin both made mistakes that likely caused their defeat in 2008. Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris and the rest of the rest of the cast give viewers a riveting inside look at just how far some people are willing to go in order to capture the White House.

Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, HBO’s 1080p transfer faithfully reproduces the film’s original high definition broadcast. Colors are wonderfully vivid, skin tones look natural and the image is clear throughout.

The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent. Dialogue and music comes through crystal clear, without distortion. Other sounds are nicely layered, expanding out to provide a nice surround atmosphere.

English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.

The following special features are included:

  • Creating A Candidate (1080i, 7:26) Political experts Ed Rollins, Gloria Borger, Karen Tumulty, Dana Bash and Jessica Yellinanalyze discuss how the increasing phenomenon of celebrity driven politics has narrowed the political spectrum over the last forty-five years, or so.
  • Game Change: The Phenomenon: (1080i, 4:27) Authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, along with screenwriter Danny Strong and director Jay Roach discuss their decision to focus solely on the McCain/Palin campaign for the purposes of the film
  • A DVD and Digital Copy of the film.