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This HBO movies tells the story of John McCain’s political campaign in 2008, in which he lost out on to Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States of America. Specifically it focuses on his running mate Sarah Palin – the reason for the surprise pick, the difficulties McCain’s staff as well as Palin herself faced, and the way the wheel came off the campaign when it became glaringly obvious that she was a bad choice for running mate.

This is in my top ten of all films, which is quite unusual for me, given that it is a political movie and that it focuses on the Republicans (I very much wanted Obama to win, and have a great admiration for the whole Obama family). The stellar cast really make this work – Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, campaign strategist and advisor; Sarah Paulsen as Nicole Wallace, campaign advisor; Ed Harris as McCain; and – in an absolutely breathtaking performance that never becomes caricature – Julianne Moore as Palin herself.

The film is entertaining, yet uncomfortable viewing at times and utterly compelling throughout.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Jay Roach

Writer: Mark Halperin (book), Danny Strong, John Heilemann

Main cast: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Sarah Paulsen, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicol

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This is a brilliantly readable account of what was indeed an extraordinary election in America in 2008.  It starts from the beginning, with the candidates announcing their intentions to run, thoroughly discussing the Democratic and Republican campaigns to get the nomination, and then the presidential campaign.  The Democratic nomination campaigns quickly became a two-person race, between the well-known Hillary Clinton and the newer face of Barack Obama.  (While I do think Obama is terrific and I was lucky enough to be in a blue state in America for both of his elections, this book reinforced my view that Hillary would also have done an excellent job.)  The book demonstrates how important the Iowa caucus was to both candidates, and how infighting and bad management of finances within Hillary’s campaign caused so many problems.  Barack Obama’s campaign, while certainly not without its problems and mis-steps, seemed to run much more smoothly, in the end helping to win the nomination for him instead of the Clinton powerhouse.  (I actually found Bill Clinton’s part in Hillary’s campaign to be fascinating, as it seemed to hinder her as much as help her.)

McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination was not without its problems either, as many of the party viewed him with some suspicion.  However, he got the nomination and then faced an even tougher battle against the by this time seemingly unstoppable Obama.  The successful parts of his campaign are discussed, although at times there do not seem to be too many of them, and his bizarre choice of running mate is also examined in detail.

Sometimes I think if this was fiction and was made into a film, people would find it too unbelievable, but this is all true! The narrative is presented in an engaging tone, and it never feels dull or dry.  It also stays unbiased, and although it reports on some of the more unsavoury press which the candidates received during their campaigns, it never resorts to using the same tactics.  Overall, I would say that this is well worth a look to anybody with even a passing interest in politics or the election process.

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