The Game Review

(2.5 STARS)

The Game is the kind of film that unfortunately doesn’t follow the old adage “The ends justify the means.” We the viewers are dragged along on this roller coaster ride of suspense that’s so relentless it almost makes you crazy. A really juicy ending could have made the chaotic journey worthwhile. But The Game ends with a whimper, not a bang. Its tepid conclusion ruins what’s an otherwise solid motion picture.

Nicholas Van Orten (Michael Douglas) is the kind of guy who seems to have it all—an enormous house, a great job, and all the creature comforts he could ever want. But he’s missing any sort of human connection. The only people in Nicholas’ life are his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) and his housekeeper. As a present for his birthday, Conrad books Nicholas an appointment at Consumer Recreation Services, a mysterious corporation that involves Nicholas in something called “the game,” a so-called profound life experience intended to provide whatever is lacking in a person’s life. Soon, strange things start happening all around Nicholas. A news anchorman starts speaking to him through the television. He receives an anonymous note telling him not to let a waitress (Deborah Unger) out of his sight. And his relatively quiet life is becoming more dangerous every day until he becomes unsure where the game ends and his life begins.

The preposterousness of The Game wouldn’t have bothered me too much if its endgame was clever, powerful, or mind-blowing. Unfortunately, it’s none of those things. It’s silly and safe. In hindsight, the best moments of the film—really, everything that happens in the film—is just setup for the conclusion. And for that to be so tepid is unforgiveable. It makes everything else feel like a waste, even the good stuff.

For the first time in my exploration of David Fincher’s films, I found real fault in his direction. He keeps us in the dark for so long that several extended explanatory scenes are necessary to tell the story. He’s technically proficient, as always, but he’s not quite on top of his game (no pun intended).

Michael Douglas is the only actor with any real screen time, and he acquits himself well. Nicholas has some similarities to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street—both characters are rich, classy, and lonely—though Nicholas isn’t a complete asshole. He’s also not quite as charismatic, but that works. Nicholas needs to be a few steps behind for this story to work at all, and while it ultimately doesn’t quite work, it’s through no fault of Douglas’.

I didn’t even know The Game existed until I decided to dive into director David Fincher’s filmography this month, so to say it’s his forgotten film would be an understatement. And it’s not hard to see why. While the film is fitfully engaging, it’s also very convoluted, implausible, and surprisingly amateurish. I’m surprised a director this skilled would churn out something this half-baked.

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