johnlink ranks THE GAME (1997)

THE GAME is one of the lesser known David Fincher films. In a completely unscientific survey of people asked to name the great works of Fincher, the same titles inevitably come up: SE7EN, FIGHT CLUB, BEN BUTTON, SOCIAL NETWORK, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. His film PANIC ROOM seems to be universally known and not as well liked. ALIEN 3, it is assumed, was never really his to do with as he pleases. That leaves only two other features: THE GAME and ZODIAC. Both seem to fall into the category wherein those who have seen them really appreciate them, but the films are not in the public conscience the same way, say, FIGHT CLUB is. THE GAME is a movie very much worthy of attention.

I watched THE GAME (1997) on 8.22.12. It was maybe my seventh or eighth viewing of the film, and my first in probably ten years.

At one point in this film a minor character looks at Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) and laments the fact that he cannot enjoy playing the game for the first time again, and that he is jealous of Nicholas’ impending experience. I sort of feel the same way. While THE GAME is not a movie to throw away after the first viewing, there is really nothing like seeing it for the first time.

The story (and I’m going to make this as spoiler free as possible) has Nicholas’ brother Conrad (Sean Penn) buying him an elaborately designed game for his birthday. The game is to be surprising, unique, and life-changing. It seems innocent enough as it gets going, but soon Nicholas’ world begins to crumble and the creators of the game turn out to be malicious.

The conclusion is full of crazy twists and unexpected developments. I certainly won’t ruin any of them here, and I absolutely wish I could see this movie for the first time again. With THE USUAL SUSPECTS, the movie is very much about the characters within the mystery. The reveal at the end of that movie makes the film infinitely rewatchable as we the viewer try to discern the nuances of truth. In THE GAME, on the other hand, the film is about the game itself, and about Nicholas as a secondary by-product. He is well-developed, to be sure, but the end of the film doesn’t make us feel the need to go back and see what we missed about HIM, it makes us go back and see how everything played out. So this is a really great film the first time, very satisfactory the second time, and then provides diminishing returns. This is not to suggest that this is a bad movie at all, it just may not have the rewatchability of some other twisty films.

The script is well crafted in the sense that Nicholas has a major impact on the proceedings. While the game certainly guides him, it is Nicholas who impacts what will happen. He doesn’t move fast enough to pick up a key at one point, he fails to help a man in need of some toilet paper in another. Because of one of those (or an unknown third failure) he doesn’t have a key at a certain point when he needs one to open his briefcase. When he later leaves the briefcase behind, it is used against him at a later point. The game feels guided, but able to improvise. The writing of this is skillful. However, there are moments which feel so contrived that a viewer can’t help but be pulled out for a moment. Many of these are haphazardly explained later on, but they don’t necessarily work in the moment (Nicholas’ taxi going into the river being one example).

Ultimately, this is a film which you absolutely need to see at least once. It’s heady, fun, and suspenseful. Michael Douglas is at his best when he is playing someone with a bit of an ego, and he does not disappoint here. The acting is really effective across the board, and its a good thing too because a film like this NEEDS good acting.

THE GAME is a really solid movie which gets overshadowed by David Fincher’s more renowned classics. Maybe you won’t need to watch it every couple of years, but it is absolutely worth visiting once.





~ by johnlink00 on August 23, 2012.

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