The Game

Talk about a fantastic movie. The Game, the second thriller directed by David Fincher, is a pulse-pounding movie, one that gets the heart rate up and doesn’t let you go until it concludes, and even then it leaves you with seeds of doubt. Exactly what you saw might not truly be what you thought, and you’ll want to see it again to look for clues and to see if the whole enterprise holds up. I think it does, but you’ll have to see it for yourself to find out.

The film stars Michael Douglas as Nicholas, a very rich man who no longer finds joy in much of life. He’s an investment banker, which will immediately make you think of his character in Wall Street. On his 48th birthday, his brother (Sean Penn) gives him a certificate to participate in a “game,” which is created by a company called CRS. What exactly this “game” is doesn’t get revealed until Nicholas starts having a conversation with his television after finding a clown doll in the middle of his driveway, precisely in the same location his father had landed after jumping to his death from the roof of the house. What a chilling scene, this one is, although much of the film gives off that vibe.

The Game will remind many viewers of Total Recall, in which a man pays to go on the adventure of a lifetime. The central question of that film revolved around whether or not the events in the film were happening. Here, we know they’re happening but we don’t know what the motivation is. Is CRS truly giving Nicholas the adventure his brother paid for, or are they scamming the rich man of his money?

David Fincher continues to throw more at us, and at the main character. The events continue to escalate to the point that by the time the film concludes, we’re exhausted. It’s so much fun to watch a movie like this one. You’re kept on your toes throughout; your mind is active and your heart is pounding. Every time you think you have The Game figured out, you’ll learn something new — something that might not even be real, which you’ll learn later — that will turn your viewpoint around.

These types of twisty-turvy films don’t always hold up on inspection. Does The Game? I think it does, although it’s entirely possible to view it as a series of contrivances and that if one thing happened differently, the entire operation would collapse. I think that this CRS company would have planned for more than just the single path taken by Nicholas. Or perhaps the lengthy psychological exam taken at the beginning gave them such a clear indication as to the path he would take.

You will want to re-watch The Game to see if you can see the clues. During the aforementioned exam, a picture of a car driving off a cliff is shown, and Nicholas is asked to say the first word that comes to his mind. “Whoops,” is what he says. Wouldn’t you believe it that this was actually foreshadowing for a situation that he’ll have to deal with later in the film. What do you want to bet his reaction isn’t “whoops”? There are more moments like this, but I’ll leave them for you to discover — and for me to uncover when I see The Game another time.

Clever viewers will expect the film to take this wealthy, out-of-touch, egotist and humble him through the situations with which he’s presented. Clever viewers will not seem quite as clever after watching the film. The Game doesn’t take that route — at least, not exactly — which is welcome. The theme that one expects to see, and the development anticipated, are both subverted, which makes this movie feel fresh even after watching it and seeing all that it has to offer.

The Game is a very dark film, much like Fincher’s earlier thriller, Seven. Those who like brightly lit films will want to watch something else. Most of this movie takes place at night, or feels like it does. There are few happy characters and even fewer happy moments. A suicide, and a suicide attempt, play large roles. The Game is still a lot of fun, but those bothered by motion pictures that aren’t easy will likely want to look elsewhere.

Michael Douglas could play this role in his sleep. He doesn’t have to give a terribly emotional performance to be effective, because he’s smart, cool, calm, collected, and that’s all that he needs to be. Does his humanity start to show as the film progresses? Maybe, but maybe not. There’s enough subtlety in the performance to make you think this through. And when emotions do boil over — or at least come to the surface — Douglas delivers in spades. Supporting work comes from Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger, although both get far fewer scenes and are easily overshadowed.

The Game is a fantastic thriller. It will make you think, it will keep you on your toes, and it is involving for the entirety of its running time. You want to go back and watch it again, right after it finishes, just to look for clues and to see if it holds up. The twists and turns keep things unpredictable, and the whole experience is very worthwhile. It is anchored by a great performance by Michael Douglas, and it is absolutely worth seeing at least twice.

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