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USA 1997
Directed by
David Fincher
129 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Game

Most thrillers require you to accept a chain of coincidence that defies all known laws of probability. The Game takes this method to exceptional lengths yet it manages to work much better than its ostensible peers because it moves from link to link so inexorably and so efficiently that you don’t really have time to contemplate the reality-defying implausibility of it all. Even the moral of the story, Nick's awakening to the importance of human connectivity is not very convincingly handled and yet, so nail-bitingly intense is his journey that one doesn't have time to care.

Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orten, an extremely wealthy merchant banker who has nothing in his life except his money. On his 48th birthday, his errant brother (Sean Penn) gives him an invitation to try a game offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services, and promises him that it will put a little fun in his life, something which is sorely lacking. Despite himself Nick signs on but finds out that what he has got himself into is anything but fun.

Perhaps because of its similarity to a raft of more-or-less-the-same thrillers, The Game is a surprisingly under-rated film. Screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris not only give us plot chock-full of twists and turns, red herrings and false trails, they give us a solid foundation for the story in the character of Nick, a man whose very inflexible defensiveness makes him vulnerable and a setting that makes the far-fetched nature of events at least financially plausible. Then in the lead Michel Douglas, also too often under-rated, gives a strong performance as a man whose control over his life is unravelling and who is desperately fighting a looming vortex of paranoia.

Director David Fincher who had a background in music videos before his first feature,  Alien 3 (1993) and his break-out hit, Seven (1995) is a  skilled director with a striking visual style and a flair for darkly brooding atmosphere, helped not a little here by Harris Savides' chiaroscuro cinematography and Howard Shore’s thrumming score. In some respects you might call his film, The Sting (1973) of the 90s. How things have changed in a quarter century!

 

 

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