The Game (1997)



"I'm your brother! Always pushing the responsibility out on me. For Christ's sakes, I'm your brother! All I ever tried to do was help you.""I'm your brother! Always pushing the responsibility out on me. For Christ's sakes, I'm your brother! All I ever tried to do was help you."

“I’m your brother! Always pushing the responsibility out on me. For Christ’s sakes, I’m your brother! All I ever tried to do was help you.”


David Fincher’s The Game is meant to portray how the other side lives, and how lavish a life it can be, at first glance. The lifestyle of the rich, snobby elitist is perfectly framed to show the upper class, which it does rather successfully. When we are first introduced to Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) that arrogance jumps off the screen, he’s the type of wealthy that is only concerned about the money that’s being put in his various offshore bank accounts in European countries, that also needs reminding of who Elizabeth is when she calls by his drone like secretaries. The perfect type of shallow personality to be taken advantage of because he’s not paying attention.

And because of his apathy for just about every single person around him, Nicholas is the perfect prey for a game that is quick to ruin his entire well-being. His state of mind is fragile to begin with, or at least he buries those feelings of depression way down below the surface hoping they won’t come up for a breath of air. To Fincher’s credit, Michael Douglas is the perfect choice for the role, take the film Wall Street as an example. He plays the cold, detached from society, distant 1% well but his range here is the most profound aspect to his character. One scene has Nicholas enjoying a birthday burger made by his maid thinking everything is how it’s supposed to be and in that next moment, Nicholas is questioning his sanity when the news reporter he’s barely paying attention to goes off script. 

Nicholas is the perfect subject matter that Fincher loves to examine in his films. The fragility of a person’s mind is on full display – unravelling sanity one day at a time. Again, this is why Douglas’ performance is brilliant, his range of also playing an unhinged broken spirit with trust issues is equally believable. Don’t believe anyone or anything – they may be in on the game. 

What gets Nicolas involved in The Game can be credited to his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn). The promise of something that will change Nicholas’ life, and it does, in the most extreme way. Fincher starts the sequence of events off slower, giving some exposition with an appearance of something that feels like a legitimate operation. Forms, tests and smiling faces are all on full display, meant to fool the unexpected and when the timing is right, warp reality. 

The Game as a thriller does its job well, screenwriters John Brancato and Ceán Chaffin take each twist and turn and easily manipulate the viewer as well as Nicholas as to what we’re witnessing is reality and what is a part of the game. Each scene builds upon the previous with a ferocious intensity that whatever proceeds is like a sucker punch, sneaking up behind you and knocking you out cold. While his world unravels, the suspense Fincher builds is elevated at a precise and methodical pace – slowly raising the blood pressure and heart rate of Nicholas and the viewer. 

It’s the way the sequence of events unfolding that does it. Just about everyone in Nicolas’s life is in on the secret including his most trusted advisors. 

What Fincher does well is executed on screen. The atmosphere that’s created surrounding Nicholas makes it difficult to breathe let alone think straight – turning Nicholas into a delusional shell of his former self. Look at how well the environment in Fincher’s previous film Se7en is set up. Every single day it’s downpouring which in turn creates a sense of depression in the air – who can be happy when the sun is never out? That same environmental depression is on full display here. Nicholas is being manipulated by an invisible force of nature. It’s a unique method of portraying the villain since there is no singular person behind all of this just the front facing corporation called Consumer Recreation Services. In a way Nicholas is the villain in his own story. He has to have his limits pushed to extreme measures to realize how much of an asshole he is when he’s at his most elite. Take everything away, all the money, possessions, the comfortable lifestyle and you break a man. 

It’s the anticipation to see whats next that makes The Game filled with energy. Being on the same playing field with Nicholas makes the journey that much more enticing. We get to experience everything as he does. So, in turn, as the audience we are as shocked when Nicholas is being shot at and confused when told nothing is real and everything is made up. It’s like Whose Line is it Anyway but darker and more sadistic. Fincher perfectly engages the audience from the opening scene to the end when the crescendo pays off. 

The Game is meant to shock and awe. It’s meant to confuse while simultaneously cause epiphanies and have a person confront his past demons. For Nicholas – it’s the suicidal death of his father that’s at the core of his pain. All the flashbacks indicate Nicholas does have a human side to him after all. Fincher’s directing style of examining a person’s mind and reality is exactly what a film like these needs to effectively tell its story. 

Add to that the pulse pounding score from composer Howard Shore that’s just as effective as building tension as the environment and the cinematography is which each shot is framed by each character’s perspective. Everything that pushes Nicholas as a result of the game is a a series of unfortunate events. Things that go from mere annoyances to the unexplainable yet all are completely credible within the realm of the world that’s established. How such simple inconviences can turn into a life or death situation.

There are some moments that are quite predictable especially when Nicholas pairs up with Christine (Deborah Kara Unger). Her character screams that she’s untrustworthy but Douglas as the main focus of the story plays the perfect type of gullible to believe that Christine is an ally and not another pawn of manipulation. Penn and Unger are perfect in their supporting roles to Douglas’ lead performance. It’s his film and his talent drive home the point of the film – expect the unexpected and even when you might have an idea of whats coming, you’re thrown off the scent even further.

The Game is written by John Brancato & Ceán Chaffin, directed by David Fincher is Rated R and has an 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Game was released on September 12, 1997 in the United States and has a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Game can be bought or rented by online retailers including iTunes, Google and Amazon. 3.5 out of 5.


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