I’m probably not alone in thinking that David Fincher is one of the best directors working in Hollywood right now. If you take a look at his filmography, there doesn’t seem to be a genre that he can’t tackle. His second film (after the entirely mediocre Alien 3), the superb horror/mystery Seven, scared that crap out of audiences, but also kept them guessing up until the very end. His other films like Fight Club, The Social Network, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were each a part of a different genre, but were all exceptional character studies. Of course, these are just a few noteworthy examples, which were also quite clear in his third effort, The Game. While it doesn’t quite pack the punch that Seven did, it is still a very fine example of work as a thriller and also provides an excellent mind game for the viewer.
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an investment banker who can’t seem to get a grasp on his life despite his wealth. His wife has divorced him, his brother is estranged, and his house only serves to remind him of just how lonely and empty he is. When his estranged brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), shows up for his birthday, he gives Nicholas a business card as a gift for Consumer Recreation Services, which he claims will change his life. Nicholas decides to give it a try and meets with an associate of CRS (James Rebhorn), who gets him all set up and explains that it’s all just a game. As Nicholas’ game starts, he finds that his life and all of the work that was put into starts to crumble all around him with no explanation or conceivable reason. The only clues he may have lie with a mysterious woman, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger), who may or may not be involved with what’s going on with Nicholas.
A movie with a plot like that leaves a lot of room for some crazy stuff to happen, and believe you me, crazy stuff happens for a good majority of the movie. At first, I felt a little disappointed, because everything that was happening just seemed like another obstacle for Nicholas to get over, and what I was expecting was a movie that was going to toy with my mind and expectations. If only I had a little patience. What I mistook for a wasted opportunity was actually just excellent pacing. The movie starts off a little slow and progressively gets stranger and stranger until I finally felt like I was all wrapped up in this unbelievable game along with Nicholas.
What actually got me curious about this movie was that I heard how twist turny and mind boggling it is. I love movies like that; the ones that are in the same vein as Donnie Darko and Primer. The Game is now going to be my new go to example for a movie that takes your brain and shakes it around so much that it leaves you feeling tired by the very end. There have been times where I go into a movie expecting that, and by the end I’m disappointed that it really didn’t make me think out the puzzle all that much. Trying to solve the mystery of a movie like The Game is a large part of the fun. This one did not disappoint. Fincher and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris lay this movie out in such a way that I at first though I knew what was going on, but as the movie progressed I was left wondering if anything that was going on was real or just part of the game, which is exactly what Michael Douglas’ character was going through. Now that’s clever film making.
Something that seems to bother people about this movie, and rightfully so, is just how ludicrous it is. I’m not the kind of person who gets too upset over a movie that seems completely implausible, because it is a movie after all, but there are some limits. The Game had its moments where I would think to myself that it would be highly, highly unlikely for something like that to happen. A counter argument would be that CRS is just so exact with their work that they would make it happen, especially given all of the tests they give to Nicholas when he starts up the game. Still, it would still be a really difficult task that kind of pushes the limits of what is acceptable with suspending disbelief. The movie is saved though by how believable Douglas plays everything and how twisted the movie can get.
As a mind boggling thriller, David Fincher’s The Game is a prime example of the genre and has gone on to become a cult classic. It would be very easy to pick this movie apart and find all of the flaws, but that would ruin the fun of the story. A story that left me scratching my head and on the edge of my seat until the very end. If you’re able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy movies that challenge you to think, and think quickly, then I can easily recommend The Game. Just be prepared for a wild ride.