A Review of HBO’s Movie Game Change


It should be noted before we begin the review of this movie that the book, on which this movie was based, was based on unnamed sources.

As the authors explain in a note to readers, the book relied on extensive interviews with 200 leading figures from the political realm to present the story in an omniscient voice. But each interview occurred on what they called “deep background,” which they said meant that everything they learned could be used but never attributed — even indirectly.*

“This led Melinda Henneberger, a former reporter for the New York Times and Newsweek who is now editor in chief of PoliticsDaily.com, to say, “Because these are two journalists with the reputation for accuracy and fairness — and they are — we’re really being asked to trust on faith that everything in it is completely accurate without the kind of sourcing you would have to have for a news story.” *

It’s also important to note that a Big Hollywood investigation found that the major actors, producers, and directors involved in the movie Game Change were all Obama supporters who have contributed heavily to Democratic causes for the past 20 years, and that the HBO executives in charge of the production have also made significant contributions to the Democratic Party and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign**.

The most important note to make here is that writers, of all mediums and genres, learn very early on in the process how important manipulation is to storytelling. In order to lead a reader into the belief that a main character is heroic, sympathetic, funny, dumb, etc., the writer must manipulate the reader into this belief. In most cases, the writer is required to have the reader care about the character before they encounter conflict. If the character in question is a bad guy, however, the writer must create an atmosphere in which the reader cheers against that character. There are many tactics that a writer can use to manipulate the reader. One of these tactics is to give the bad guy a fatal flaw that makes the reader feel better about themselves and the choices they’ve made in life. If the reader is one that escaped the school system before the system stopped teaching basic history, for example, the reader will know that the U.S. fought with Britain, France, Russia, and others against the Germany led Axis Powers in WWII and the Central Powers in WWII. What if someone didn’t know that? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? If this message is executed in a manner that does not require the reader, or audience member, know that material, the writer can have the audience member laughing with them, regardless of their education level on the subject matter at hand.

“Director of Foreign Policy and National Security for the McCain campaign, Randy Scheunemann refutes the idea portrayed in this movie that Sarah Palin didn’t know who the players were in these wars: “The idea that at any point that Gov. Palin expressed any uncertainty as to who were the various sides in World War I or World War II, or any other war, is absolutely untrue. She was incredibly intelligent. She asked very informed questions. She was very interested and she wanted to understand John McCain’s view of foreign policy because she wanted to be the best possible vice presidential nominee.”***

One of the other manipulative tactics the makers of this movie used was the silent, blank stare. This silent moment occurs after the bad guy’s flub. Some writers use a moment of silence to permit a space where the audience can laugh, such as those used in a sitcom. Other authors use it to allow the audience to fill in an answer the author wants them to arrive at on their own. If the author is insecure about the reactions the audience will arrive at, they will provide the audience with follow up reactions by the actors to dictate to the audience how they are to react during subsequent silent, blank stare moments. In Game Change, the actors express frustrated confusion following the silent, blank stares. “How could she not know that?” was the reaction that the audience is instructed to employ after the first few silent, blank stares.

Philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said that one of the keys to convincing another person of your point of view is to make them believe that they arrived at your answer themselves. In Game Change, the actor portraying Steve Schmidt asks the actor portraying Sarah Palin some significant questions regarding the politics of the day, such as John McCain’s policy, and some obvious, geopolitical questions. The actor portraying Palin, either looks like a deer in the headlights in the face of such questions, or she offers some rushed, uninformed answers. At this point in the movie, the audience has already been instructed, through vicarious measures, to say “What a ditz!” during the silent, blank stare moments.

One of the virtues of the “silent moment” for the main character is that it allows the main character to appear polite, as they harbor judgment, but the looks that they share with one another, and the aura the director creates, allows you to fill in that blank in a manipulated manner.

In 2008, former editor in chief of Ms. Magazine, Elaine Lafferty wrote:

“I’d heard rumors around the campaign of her photographic memory and, frankly, I watched it in action. She sees. She processes. She questions, and only then, she acts.”***

The creators of the Game Change movie also wanted to depict Palin as being unseemly ambitious after accomplishing what she did at the GOP convention. One of the tactics they employed to portray this was to have the actor that portrayed Palin say that she wants to win this election because she wants out of Alaska. As Stacy Drake says in her piece Top 10 Lies about HBO’s Game Change if Sarah Palin wanted out of Alaska so badly, “Why does she still live there? And how exactly do you explain Sarah Palin’s Alaska?”  For those not acquainted with the TLC series, Sarah Palin’s Alaska celebrated life in Alaska with a television series that detailed the Alaskan way of life and its beauty. This show was successful, Sarah Palin’s book was successful, and she has accrued several successful speaking engagements in her post-election career. She may not be a multi-millionaire yet, but she surely has enough money to leave Alaska if she wants. She apparently doesn’t want this, but the viewer is not supposed to bring this knowledge to their viewing of this movie.

The movie also attempted to portray Palin as being naïve in her dealings with a “Troopergate” scandal that threatened to derail her VP nomination, and ostensibly the entire McCain campaign. The movie does not attempt to portray Palin as a criminal in this instance, but merely uninformed in regards to the findings of investigative panels.

“You cannot say that you were cleared of all wrong doing,” the actor that portrays Steve Schmidt yells to correct her previous answer to a reporter, “The report stated that you abused your power. That is the opposite of being cleared of all wrong doing.” As noted in the following paragraphs, the actor that portrays Steve Schmidt was instructed to read lines that were taken from the Branchflower report.

Thomas Van Flein, Palins attorney, said:

“The true independent board that reviewed this matter and exonerated Governor Palin in the Petumenos report, condemned the Branchflower report as biased, partisan, incomplete, and incompetent.”

The Anchorage Daily News reported at the time:

“Petumenos wrote the Legislature’s special counsel, former state prosecutor Steve Branchflower, used the wrong state law as the basis for his conclusions and also misconstrued the evidence.”

To quote Bill Dyer, the Branchflower report, the one sold by HBO as proof Palin was guilty of any wrongdoing, was “an obvious political hatchet job.”

Democrats, active with Obama’s campaign, hijacked the process, ignored the law and released a Branchflower report that fit their agenda. Luckily, an independent board corrected the record, but that didn’t stop HBO from misleading their viewers.***

This movie is largely taken from the perspective of McCain campaign’s senior advisor Steve Schmidt. The movie correctly details the fact that Schmidt took over a floundering presidential campaign three months before the election. Desperate for a game changer, in this malaise, Schmidt and company convinced Candidate John McCain to nominate Sarah Palin as his vice-president. Although Palin provided the McCain campaign a much needed boost, Schmidt decided to say that the campaign’s decision to bring her on was the decision that brought down the entire campaign. Even though, thanks in part to Palin, the campaign was even with candidate Obama prior to the 9/08 financial crisis.

To be fair to the movie creators, there is a brief mention of the financial crisis and George W. Bush’s handling of it, and the resultant effects on the McCain campaign, in the waning moments of the movie. There is a follow up statement that suggests that the oncoming loss wasn’t as a result of nominating Sarah Palin, but I’ll bet you didn’t catch it. I barely did. It was said as a throwaway line in the agonizing scenes of the movie that precede the election.

Aside from that throwaway line, the portion of the book Game Change that HBO, and the movie’s creators, chose to concentrate on (the Republicans look bad portion) is basically one long attempt by Schmidt and the team of advisors to deflect blame for the loss of the 2008 presidential election.

Anytime a campaign for president of the U.S. fails in such a manner, there is a mad rush by those involved to cast blame on anyone and everyone else involved in the campaign for the decisions that were made. They do this in a desperate attempt to have other, future presidential campaigns bring them on board. It was just Schmidt and company’s good fortune that they had a patsy on the campaign that the makers of this movie, HBO, and the mainstream media were dying to dethrone.

*http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122574684

**http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Hollywood/2012/03/07/Palin-HBO-None-GameChange-Sources-Traveled-Campaign-Label-Movie-Fiction

***http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Hollywood/2012/03/09/top-10-lies-game-change

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/13/hurt-game-change-celebrates-washington-narcissism/

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