The Game (1997) dir. David Fincher
Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn
Looking at David Fincher’s career, “The Game” is sandwiched between his two definitive films so far, “Seven” and “Fight Club”. That’s why I consider “The Game” to be Fincher’s “The Conversation” (in reference Francis Coppola’s 1974 film he made in between the two Godfathers).The comparisons go even further; both are minimalist, quiet films about control-obsessed characters that become manipulated by outside forces. Both take place in San Francisco, and both are largely forgotten masterpieces in both the filmmakers’ respective careers. I don’t just throw the ‘masterpiece’ away either. If you revisit “The Game”, you’ll find it an intense roller coaster ride and worthy of the highest acclaim.
Nicholas Van Orton (a perfectly cast Michael Douglas) is a high-powered divorced executive with the power to ruin lives. On the day of his birthday, his free-living brother (Sean Penn) gives him a special present - an invitation to play a game, run by “Consumer Recreation Services – CRS”. The Game is mysterious, not many details given. He shows up at the CRS office and is given a series of endless, mind-numbing psychological tests. The banality is tedious; it lulls Van Orton and the audience into a sleep – or a hypnosis. From now on, we are no longer in control; the Game and David Fincher are controlling us.
Van Orton’s ‘Game’ will be brought to him and it comes in a series of small mishaps and challenges starting with a conspicuously annoying leaky pen and snowballs into Douglas’ character being locked in a coffin and left for dead in Mexico (which incites a great moment of dry humour at the end). The stakes are raised even higher when Van Orton’s bank account is cut off, as it appears he’s been the victim of an elaborate scam. We are pulled through the twists and turns of the script. We’re in Van Orton shoes the entire time, and never have more information than the main character. This is the key to sustaining the momentum and suspense of the film.
The film is dark and shadowy, which is Fincher’s trademark. The music is quiet and brooding, and reflects the anti-septic life Douglas’ character lives in. Flashbacks to a painful moment in his past reveal a lot about the purpose of the Game and why Van Orton was chosen to participate. The puzzle slowly comes together in a riveting climax that had me guessing all the way to the end.
“The Conversation’s” Harry Caul and Nicholas Van Orton are cut from the same mold – private, obsessed individuals who are stripped of the control in their lives, and broken down to be built up again as better people afterwards. We only assume both Harry and Nicholas would have changed their careers and started new, more fruitful and productive lives. Therefore “The Game” becomes a lesson for all of us, whose careers and obsessive goals alienate our loved ones and distract us from enjoying the best moments of our lives.
But enough of being deep, “The Game” rocks!! Check it out. Enjoy.