03/08/2012 04:57 pm ET Updated May 08, 2012

Game Change on HBO: Sarah Palin, See This Movie!

For the same reasons that Sarah Palin is a riveting figure in American politics, the HBO movie Game Change is an astonishingly smart look at her and the world that put her in the position of John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election. Even when played by Julianne Moore, you cannot take your eyes off Sarah Palin.

I will not say especially as played by Julianne Moore, although Moore's gifts as an actor are such that she disappears in the role. Other actresses of note in recent times, say Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, give wonderful performances based upon evocations of their subjects; their power is in the suggestion of these famous women. But Julianne Moore's Palin incarnates the dead-on clueless mien, the quivering upper lip as she digs in her heels defying her handlers, Palin's physical attractiveness that suggested "game change" to Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson, with signature intensity) in the first place. Ultimately this is an empathetic portrait of this woman whose politics -- anti-choice, anti-stem cell research -- still scare many.

A great moment comes watching Moore as Palin watching Tina Fey as Palin on television, for example, interviewed by Katie Couric played by Amy Poehler, when she could not name a single news source for her policies. The SNL scenes say much about the infinite possibilities for satirizing Palin. By contrast, she comes across as nuanced and even likable in Moore's depiction in Game Change. No matter what has been written about her family life, here she is at her best with son Trig in her arms and lovingly encouraged by Todd. With McCain (a fine Ed Harris), she is respectful, and for the most part, he with her.

At the Ziegfeld Theater premiere, more than one person remarked at how close we came to taking that bullet. A relieved crowd shuttled over to the Four Seasons for dinner: cast and crew, director Jay Roach, authors of the book Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Sarah Paulson, excellent as the Washington speechwriter brought in to prep Palin, Steve Schmidt, and George Pataki, Tom Hanks, Bob Balaban, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tom Colicchio, Rachael Horovitz, Oren Moverman and Arianna Huffington, among many others.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.