Review: 'Game Change' is winning with Julianne Moore

Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace and Woody Harrelson Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace and Woody Harrelson as campaign manager Steve Schmidt in HBO's " Game Change" premieres on March 10, 2012. Photo Credit: HBO

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THE TV MOVIE "Game Change

"WHEN | WHERE March 10 at 9 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT First came the 2008 campaign, then John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's 2010 book, and now the movie from Jay Roach ("Recount"), which covers only the Republican ticket.

The movie opens in 2007. Sen. John McCain (Ed Harris) is morose: The media have turned on him and Democrat front-runner Barack Obama is a superstar.

"Stevie boy," says would-be GOP presidential candidate McCain in a call to old friend and strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), "would you consider joining this, even for a few weeks?"

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A year later, Schmidt has joined the campaign, McCain has rebounded and earned his party's nomination. But there's still a gender gap -- many women simply won't vote for him. So his campaign manager Googles possible female running mates.

How about Alaska's governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore)? She is hastily vetted -- so hastily that no one bothers to ask her if she knows what the Fed is or who runs the British government, the queen or the prime minister? They will find out soon enough.

MY SAY There's a scene midway in this movie where Palin is getting prepped by Schmidt and his team, as though she's a kid with a learning disability. A synth tracks in a long, low, minor key as the camera plays across her face: Eyes clouded, mouth drooping, face sullen, Palin looks lost and alone.

A scene meant to ridicule? Or elicit pity? Neither: A scene designed to humanize. There are many throughout this film. "Game Change" isn't a parody -- some extended Tina Fey skit -- nor a hatchet job. It's a portrait; and, while I can't attest to its fairness (Palin supporters have already attacked the film), I can attest to Moore's performance, which is superb. The Palin that emerges here has dimension and humanity; when you cut her, she bleeds. She yells when she gets angry, gets lonely, feels lost, and finds solace in the most important people in her life: her family.

She is also deeply loyal to McCain, though he is less so to her, at times. Yes, she has occasional Captain Queeg moments, especially when she senses that Schmidt and his team have turned on her. There's a Norma Desmond "I AM big -- it's the pictures that got small" -- hauteur, too, when her star rises. But those pass. What remains is a fully realized person. Palin supporters may hate it, but Palin should send Roach and his team a dozen roses.

@Newsday

BOTTOM LINE A luminous and fully alive portrait by a first-rate actress.

GRADE A

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