Title: The Game
Director: David Fincher
Staring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker
Plot: Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a wealthy banker, who has chosen to remove himself from any form of human contact were possible outside of his work and his housekeeper. However on his 48th birthday he finds the occasion overshadowed by his father committing suicide at the same age, while he is greeted by a surprise visit from his brother Conrad (Penn) who he hasn’t seen in years, giving him a card for “Consumer Recreation Services (CRS)” who offer to provide that what is missing. Little does Nicholas know that after his initial meeting with them that the game has begun until strange things start to happen around him.
I will warn you now before I go any further that this review is likely to contain potential spoilers and as such I would advise those of you who like your surprises left in tact to stop reading now and go and see this film, while for the rest you have been warned.
Okay I should admit I am slightly biased when it comes to Michael Douglas movies, as while he has made his fair share of box office fodder, he has throughout his career pulled out some really surprising performances, such as his postal former defence engineer in “Falling Down” to his pot smoking professor in “Wonder Boys”, let alone his most memorable embodiment of 80’s greed and excess, Gorden Gecko in “Wall Street”, with Douglas having a real knack for playing men of power much like what we are given here with Nicolas, and even now Douglas is continuing to give incredibly engaging performances with this film being yet another master class for his particular acting style, as there is not one scene in this movie were he is not completely convincing as the man of all power suddenly finding himself powerless and being forced to play someone else’s game, after years of growing accustomed to being the one in control, something further emphasised by his self imposed isolation from the rest of humanity, let alone his idea of a perfect birthday dinner is a cheeseburger served on a silver platter, to be eaten while watching CNN in his vast mansion which he inherited from his father and were he now lives alone.
A strange film to say the least, especially as it works by slowly laying layer upon layer of weirdness as the film progresses, so that just when you think you have got it figured out, it throws something new into the mix. It's also a film which certainly works best if entered with an open mind and not questioning the smaller details, as there are numerous points were the film takes real leaps in plausibility especially in terms of the reach of the individuals behind the game, who seemingly are an all seeing and controlling force able to access bank accounts and frequently put participants lives in danger with no form of comeuppance or perhaps there is something in the small print of their contract which allows them to do what the hell they want.
Still what starts with small events such as his briefcase not opening and having a drink being spilled on him by a supposedly clumsy waitress is soon escalated when he finds a creepy clown doll, even more disturbingly dressed to look how Nicolas’s father did when he committed suicide. Soon things are getting even weirder as he finds himself being chased by shadowy men, while frequently finding himself not knowing who can trust, with his bank accounts being emptied and seemingly all records relating to his existence being deleted, as Nicolas continues to try and find out who is behind the game with his sole ally coming in the form of Christine (Unger) a former waitress recruited to play a part in the game, but even though she claims to be helping him, Nicolas is never sure if she is still playing a role or genuinely trying to help him.
While towards the end of the film plausibility is stretched to it’s absolute limit, with Nicolas being dumped in an empty tomb in Mexico and being forced to barter and trade his way back into the city, with a humbling scene of Nicolas entering a diner, looking beyond dishevelled with his clothes stained with dust and looking like he hasn’t slept in days, begging for someone to give him a ride, with his fall from glory only made all the gut wrenching by the believable performance Douglas brings to this character throughout and no doubt the reason we are willing to make such leaps in plausibility with his character and what happens to him.
For myself though the most interesting scene was towards the end of the film, were Nicolas has located the headquarters of CRS and upon entering the cafeteria and sees all the various characters he has encountered on his journey, as he finally see’s what is behind the curtain and it’s the sort of the place I’m sure airports also have to store all their own wacky characters that you only seem to find at airports.
The direction is incredibly focused with Fincher once more showing a keen eye for the smallest of details, while shooting in a number of sumptuous locations all while keeping the sense of ominous intentions always lurking somewhere under the surface, while also taking full advantage of working with a larger budget than he had been given previously, thanks to the success of “Seven” which has originally been scheduled to be shot after this film and was only pushed ahead of “The Game” thanks to Brad Pitt becoming available for filming. Still Fincher always seems to be in control, as he plays the puppet master constantly tormenting Nicolas that bit more, while refusing to include shots of those pulling the strings behind the curtain and no hints to what is actually happening and in doing so forces us to live through this nightmare with him.
A paranoid trip right up until its final macabre twist of the knife, this film will keep you guessing right up until the end, while certainly being one for fans of films such as the equally underrated “The Machinist” or “Oldboy” and is as much about the journey as the final payoff, this is one film which deserved to be more recognised than it was upon it’s original release and is well worth hunting down.