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Hotly awaited film puts Sarah Palin back in spotlight

“Game Change”, a highly anticipated HBO film about Sarah Palin’s vice presidential bid, hits small screens on March 10. Starring Julianne Moore, the movie has set tongues wagging among former McCain campaign workers.


Since stepping down from her governor post in Alaska in 2009, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been no stranger to US television audiences.

She hunted, fished, and hiked her way through her own reality TV show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”, and slammed the “lamestream media” in her gig as political commentator on Fox News. Meanwhile, comedienne Tina Fey has continued to perform her now-legendary impersonation of Palin on sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live”.

Next week, the woman some conservatives love and most liberals love to hate will be soaking up the small-screen spotlight in yet another incarnation.

Renowned red-headed actress Julianne Moore plays Palin in the eagerly awaited TV film “Game Change”, to premiere on HBO (the cable channel known for hits like “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City”) on March 10. The movie, based on the bestselling book about the 2008 election, traces Palin’s rise to national fame and subsequent struggle to balance her family life with an onslaught of media attention and the demands of running for the second most powerful political position in the country.

Written by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, the book chronicled all sides of the 2008 election season, including Obama’s primary battle with Hillary Clinton. But the film version zooms in on the decision by John McCain (played by Ed Harris) to pick the little-known Alaskan as his running mate – and on the chaos that ensued thereafter.

‘Oh my God, what have we done?’

The trailer for “Game Change”, which Palin has tersely dismissed as a “false narrative” (and rebutted with this video), shows the vice presidential candidate in over her head and on the verge of crumbling as McCain’s aides realise she is unprepared for the job she has been chosen for. In one scene, she chokes back tears as she talks about missing her baby, born just months before Palin left home to hit the campaign trail. In another, she rails against McCain’s advisors (“I am not your puppet!” she shouts). Palin is also seen defiantly telling someone, “If I am singlehandedly carrying this campaign, I’m going to do what I want.”

The climax of the preview comes when McCain’s campaign strategist Steve Schmidt (portrayed by Woody Harrelson) watches Palin give one of her now-famous TV interviews, in which she talked about seeing Russia from Alaska; “Oh my God, what have we done?” he whispers with apocalyptic dread.

McCain himself comes off in the trailer as a passive presence, at one point muttering mournfully: “This is not the campaign I wanted to run.”

And “Game Change” is not a film the real John McCain wants to see. “It'll be a cold day in Gila Bend, Arizona” (a desert town known for its sweltering heat) before he watches the movie, McCain said recently. “I just don't get it,” he continued, “why they want to continue to attack Sarah Palin, a good and decent, fine mother, a wonderful person.”

Palin inner circle leaps to her defence

The most severe response has come from former Palin staffers, who have not seen the film, but are pushing back hard against what they say is a distorted version of recent history. In a conference call with reporters last week, Jason Recher, one of her top campaign workers, called her “one of the most engaged public servants I’d ever observed”.

Meg Stapleton, Palin’s former spokeswoman, was equally impassioned. “This is sick,” she said. “Look with your own eyes at what she and her family have endured and inspired over the last few years. Any lesser man would have hanged himself by now.”

But the makers of “Game Change” insist their portrait of one of the most polarising figures in US politics is fair. Director Jay Roach has said he contacted Palin for her input before making the film, but she “declined”. Writer Danny Strong has noted that he interviewed 25 former McCain campaign workers and lifted anecdotes from Palin’s own book, “Going Rogue”, as research for the screenplay. And HBO executives pointed out that one of the advisers during the shoot was none other than Chris Edwards, Palin’s deputy chief of staff during the campaign.

Two prominent former McCain affiliates also say the film is realistic. Nicolle Wallace, who was in charge of coaching Palin for her TV interviews, has stated that “Game Change” accurately reflects “the spirit and emotion of the campaign”. Steve Schmidt has told journalists, “This was a surreal experience for me…But it tells the truth of the campaign. That is the story of what happened.”

Some praise for Palin has come from an unexpected source: the actress who plays her. “She’s extremely hardworking and ambitious, and would not have reached the place that she reached without ability,” Julianne Moore, a self-avowed “registered Democrat and longtime liberal”, confided to The New York Post. “You don’t get to be a vice-presidential candidate by accident.”

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