When the news of John McCain's pick for vice president hit during the 2008 presidential campaign, democratic running-mate Joe Biden asked, "Who is Sarah Palin?"
Biden spoke for a large number of Americans when he said that. Palin was the relatively new governor of Alaska who had only been the mayor of a small town beforehand. Regardless, she became a sensation that neither republicans nor democrats could get enough of. Republicans loved her refreshing style, while democrats loved pointing out her many flaws.
Biden's confusion about Palin was taken from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s 2010 book, “Game Change,” an insider account of the 2008 presidential race. A film adaptation of the book recently debuted on HBO, focusing solely on the portions about Palin and McCain’s campaign.
This portrait of Palin is not one that bashes her into smithereens, rather it is sensitive to her as a human being. Julianne Moore’s brilliant performance as Palin reveals a woman who loves her kids and her family, but is a little in over her head.
That’s not to say that Palin should be flattered by the portrayal. Director Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong do not shy away from highlighting the many ways Palin is deeply unqualified to hold any sort of public office, but they blame those who picked Palin more than Palin herself.
It is difficult to make films like this because, on one hand, the filmmakers have to recreate a real-life story they had no control over. But on the other hand, there needs to be a coherent focus. For that reason there are scenes in this film that seem to be more detours than anything else.
There is a brief sequence in the movie that centers on McCain’s concern over attendees at his rallies shouting that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist. This theme of tapping into the dark side of American populism is a very worthy topic that the filmmakers could have focused on. However, as it stands, the scenes are merely interesting side notes that don’t mesh with the rest of the film.
But the movie does accomplish one very important thing: shining a light on problems regarding how we pick our leaders. After watching the film, it is hard not to be troubled by the fact that a person who believed Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11 was almost a 72-year-old’s heartbeat away from the presidency.
While watching the movie, it is fascinating to see that McCain's campaign advisor Steve Schmidt picked Palin because he thought she could help them win. By the end, however, his worries were not centered solely on the campaign, but also on the potential consequences of his decision on the country.
The country dodged a bullet in 2008. Now the question remains as to whether or not we can dodge another one.