The actress nailed her role as the Alaska governor in this better-than-The Iron Lady HBO movie

Credit: Andrea Renault/Polaris; Phillip V. Caruso/HBO

No one doubted that Julianne Moore would nail the physical details playing Sarah Palin in Game Change, about the Alaska governor’s astonishing explosion on the political scene in 2008 as John McCain s running mate.

So, yes, she does “the voice,” which is flat yet nasal. But that’s just the starting point. Moore is an unusual actress: At her best – and she is here – she’s completely empathetic but also mysteriously remote. Her Palin from moment to moment is absolutely real – but always open to interpretation.

Members of the “lame-stream media,” as Palin famously labeled them, will enjoy the satirical touches that glint like light off her spectacles. (When Palin finally pronounces Ahmadinejad correctly, the campaign staff applauds.)

But you don’t have to be a Tea Partier to sympathize as Palin comes close to a breakdown after being mocked nationally for her ignorance: In Change‘s best scene, Palin watches in mute despair and disgust as Tina Fey impersonates her on TV. The point, of course, is that we believe Moore is Palin.

The movie itself isn’t great – Ed Harris is given a white comb-over and little to do as McCain – yet it plausibly lays out Palin’s path from unsteady candidate to confident (or arrogant) rogue player. Comparisons to The Iron Lady, a sloppy movie that has Meryl Streep in roaring good form, are inevitable. Is Game Change better? You betcha.