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The Game

May 21, 2012

The Game (1997)
Director: David Fincher
Actors: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn

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Synopsis: Wealthy banker, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), receives a strange birthday present from his brother, inviting him to take part in an ambiguous ‘reality’ game. Although Van Orton is seemingly rejected from taking part in the game, his life begins to unravel soon after….

Review: Although the concept of The Game is ingenious (a wealthy financier whose life is turned upside down by a set of circumstances that may or may not be real), and director David Fincher directs proceedings superbly, reminiscent of the otherworldly dystopias he created for Se7en and Fight Club, there’s the nagging sense that an opportunity has been missed, and that the film’s transcendent cine-psychological potential has been diluted by its genre posturing.

It looks like the film got made on the basis that it was to be a conventional thriller, albeit with a great hook, and this is betrayed by making the likelihood that Douglas’ character is in fact experiencing ‘the game’ too explicit in the beginning when his brother and the game company spell out the loose notion of what it will entail. How much more radical it would have been to simply film Douglas’ character’s life spiralling out of control before (spoiler alert) the end reveals that it was a game all along, designed among other things, to snap Douglas out of his chilly, self-centred mode of living? That said, it’s still a classy thriller, and yet further evidence of how Michael Douglas was able to nail these WASP-in-peril roles (think Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Disclosure, Don’t Say a Word et al). I think what makes Douglas great at these type of roles – ironically, the complete opposite to his methody co-star here, Sean Penn – is that, as Roger Ebert succinctly puts it, “he is subtle enough that he never arrives at an emotional plateau before the film does, and never overplays the process of his inner change”. (May 2012)

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