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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 film was adapted from the novel Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, which was originally published anonymously, but was later revealed to have been written by journalist Joe Klein.

Young idealistic Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is given a job on the campaign of Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta), who is hoping to get the Democratic presidential nomination.  Burton is impressed by Stanton’s politics, but less pleased with his womanising ways.  Also working on the campaign are Stanton’s loyal and intelligent wife Susan (Emma Thompson), and his team of advisors, Richard Daisy and Howard (respectively, Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney and Paul Guilfoyle).  Kathy Bates is in fine form as Libby, a longtime friend of the Stanton’s, who has previously received treatment for mental illness, who is also brought on board to assist.  As the campaign gathers steam, scandals about Stanton’s affairs and his previous arrest record threaten to destroy everything the team are fighting for.

Jack and Susan Stanton are VERY obviously based on Bill and Hillary Clinton, both in the book and the film – Travolta and Thompson even look like the Clintons.  It is hugely entertaining, whether or not you are interested in politics, with some genuinely funny moments, and a couple of big shocks.  Henry is ultimately divided between supporting Stanton the politician, and disagreeing with Stanton the womanising charmer.

Everyone in the cast did a great job, but I personally thought that Billy Bob Thornton stole most of his scenes.  Travolta did a good job of the sleazy but intelligent Governor, and Thompson was great as the long-suffering Susan, who is nonetheless vital to Stanton’s campaign.  Kathy Bates was unsurprisingly great as Libby.

I enjoyed the machinations of a political machine, the internal arguments (such as the question of whether to launch a negative campaign against his opponent; an idea which Stanton initially baulks at).

Overall, well worth a watch.  As mentioned earlier, an interest in politics is certainly not necessary to enjoy the film, but I think it would help.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Mike Nichols

Producers: Jonathan D Crane, Neil A Machlis, Mike Nichols, Michael Haley, Michele Imperato

Writers: Joe Klein (novel ‘Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics’), Elaine May

Main cast: John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Guilfoyle, Maura Tierney

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