Directed by: David Fincher
Premise: A wealthy banker (Michael Douglas) gets involved in an elaborate game that is specifically tailored to fit his job, lifestyle, and psychological profile. But as the scenarios become more extreme it is unclear if this is still a game or if he’s stepped into a real trap.
What Works: The Game was one of the early films of director David Fincher. Previous to this picture he had helmed Alien 3 and Se7en but Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Social Network were still in his future. The Game is a bit of an aberration in Fincher’s filmography; the movie is much more playful than anything else he’s made before or since. Playfulness isn’t a quality typically associated with David Fincher as most of his movies are dark and serious. And while The Game has a dark color pallet and a serious tone, it also toys with the audience almost as much as the fictional Consumer Recreational Services company toys with the movie’s main character. The Game manipulates our sense of reality and does that as well as Inception or A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, The Game is a little more impressive than those films because there’s no fantastical element to it. Reality is revealed as artificial and it is impossible to tell where the illusion stops. The filmmakers take a great deal of pleasure in keeping the audience on their toes and managing our understanding of what is going on. Mysteries require care in the reveal of information. If the audience knows more than the protagonist the movie can become laborious as we wait for the main character to catch up to us. But when filmmakers spring a surprise on the audience without preparing us for it the result can be obnoxious as in the twist endings of M. Night Shyamalan’s lesser works. The Game expertly manages and manipulates the audience and keeps us on tenterhooks through the end of the movie. The Game benefits from the casting of Michael Douglas in the lead role. In movies like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Falling Down, and The Star Chamber, Douglas has epitomized the white male whose dominant role in society is undermined. His role in The Game may be the ultimate subversion story as the character’s life is disassembled and reality rearranges before his eyes. The trickery of The Game is given much more meaning because of Douglas’ performance and the script adds a lot of subtle psychological complexity to this character. The Game isn’t just a puzzle; it’s an ordeal that will psychologically deconstruct and rebuild Douglas’ character by shattering this man’s illusion of control.
What Doesn’t: The Game requires an enormous suspension of disbelief. The whole crux of the movie is that everything is a part of the game; even when things don’t appear to be part of the game or when the players claim “time out,” the game continues. But as the situation becomes more elaborate the conceit of the movie becomes wobblier. Trying to account for the logical implausibilities of The Game is a fool’s errand that will ruin the movie. But the outrageousness of The Game is what makes it fun and the film plays its gimmick to the hilt in a way that is very satisfying. But enjoying The Game requires the audience to let go a bit more than they typically would while viewing a movie. This film gets a pass on its believability because its filmmaking is so tight and its mystery is so impenetrable. But the very end of The Game is its weakest point. The movie concludes terrifically but after the climax it seems as though the moviemakers don’t know how to exit this story. The coda sequence is awkward and meandering. If it is intended to be ambiguous and imply that the game continues, that’s not conveyed very effectively. There is an attempt to demonstrate some character development but that’s not done especially well either. It’s a last minute stumble in what is an otherwise terrifically executed movie.
DVD extras: The Criterion Collection edition includes a commentary track, behind the scenes footage, film-to-storyboard comparisons, an alternate ending, trailers, a psychological test film, and a booklet.
Bottom Line: The Game is a movie that plays with the audience’s expectations in a way that is very satisfying. Those who delight in the art of illusion will find The Game to be a fun head trip and the movie is very interesting entry in David Fincher’s filmography.
Episode: #606 (August 7, 2016)