The Game is one hell of a psychological thriller
Director David Fincher has such an eye for detail which is very rare in Hollywood these days (Terry Gilliam comes to mind as another one). Film is one of the best art forms because not only can you tell a story, but you can use the camera to capture the smallest detail and have it mean something. But most directors seem to go for action with the slightest ounce of a story. So whenever a director uses the camera to its fullest potential, the film almost automatically deserves a good review. And when they add a fascinating story to it, you have nearly perfect entertainment.
Fincher's The Game is no exception to this. The Game is one of the most interesting and complex films to come out of Hollywood in a long time. Fincher hasn't made a film since Seven, his box office and critical hit which defied expectations and became one of the best movies ever. So it is about time he made another film. And what a ride it is. The Game isn't quite as powerful as Seven, but in some ways it is better. Overall, The Game could have used a little more clarity, or a little more uncertainty. It walks a line of insanity and reality, but it never goes either way until the very end. The outcome is satisfying enough for the preceding events, and it makes a lot of sense once everything is set straight. Unfortunately, unlike The Usual Suspects, we are never given enough information to figure out for ourselves what is happening, whether it be true or false. However, this also gives the film a frightening aspect which The Game uses to the fullest extent.
The Game is told completely from its main character's point of view. Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a high-strung and isolated businessman. He lives alone in his giant mansion, divorced from his wife Elizabeth, and is celebrating his 48th birthday; the same age at which his father committed suicide at, in the same mansion. For his 48th birthday, Conrad (Sean Penn), the rebel of the family, gives Nicholas a gift certificate to CRS: Consumer Recreation Services. "It will make your life fun again," his brother promises. As skeptical as Nicholas is, he is somewhat intrigued, and annoyed by the lack of information--something this businessman hates. Seeing a billboard in an office, he decides to visit the mysterious company. Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn) greets Nicholas and guides him through the sign-up process, which consists of psych-tests, physicals, emotional responses, and other mind games. "Each game is suited to each person's emotional and psychological needs," explains Feingold.
One day, Nicholas gets a call from CRS and they explain that he failed the tests. Even more intrigued and now somewhat angered at the time he spent signing up, he starts asking around to see what people can tell him about the company. What he doesn't realize is that the game has already begun. The phone call is just the first of many strange events to be thrown Nicholas' way. How he finds out that he is involved has to be witnessed because it is amusing and fun and visually impressive. The detail involved in Fincher's shots is incredible and almost requires a second viewing just to appreciate the effort that went into them. With Seven, Fincher had almost every single shot mean something. He also has the unique ability to make you look at exactly what he wants you to. Compared to Seven, though, The Game is light and comical. Because of this film's sense of humor and self-awareness, nothing can be taken quite seriously. So don't try to make much sense of what goes on in The Game, because it doesn't want you to.
What does make sense is the final revelation--when everything becomes apparent and clear. If taken as it is, The Game's ending makes complete sense. But if you try and critique every minute detail, then you get yourself into plot holes and incredibility. Perhaps that is the reason I docked the film. While trying to remain realistic and plausible, the plot is too unbelievable to create any real tension on screen. We don't really care if Douglas' character lives or not because it isn't believable. The ending requires you to have believed anything that has happened previously, but if you suspend disbelief and take the film as it is, you can accept The Game as an emotionally and psycholically disturbing thriller.
Michael Douglas gives a terrific performance as Nicholas. Douglas has played lonely businessmen before, but here he adds another level to his performance. His character, who is normally level-headed and relies on facts, is forced to trust nobody. Can he believe the waitress he bumped into? What about his brother who got him involved in the game in the first place? Douglas portrays this aspect of his character extremely well, and gives one of his best performances (even better than his Falling Down persona). The supporting cast is essential in this film, and casting was critical. Sean Penn is always good, and he gives yet another credible performance as Douglas' brother. Deborah Kara Unger (from Crash) is the waitress he bumps into, and her performance is extremely good. In fact, she almost steals the film from Douglas. James Rebhorn portrays his character very well, and adds some confusion and desparation to Douglas' predicament. Another good performance comes from Armin Mueller-Stahl (from Shine) as the book editor.
The Game is rated R for language, violence, some gore, and some nudity and drugs. What is essential for this film to work is the writing. John Brancato and Michael Ferris have woven a confusing and compelling screenplay with witty dialogue, and some very funny moments. This screenplay will probably get an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay because it does almost exactly the same thing The Usual Suspects' did. However, the visuals of The Game are enough to make the viewer enjoy the vexing plot. And if you can get yourself to believe everything occuring on the screen, you will be thoroughly entertained by one of this year's best films.
***1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie