I wasn’t expecting too much from The Game going in. I thought the premise was cool, and I generally like Michael Douglas, but based on how I’ve been feeling about Fincher’s films lately I wasn’t that excited for this one. I could not have been more wrong; The Game ended up being as good a film I could ask for from Fincher. The atmosphere is there, the performances are there, and most importantly, the suspense is there. After being slightly disappointed with Se7en, horrified by Fight Club, and not affected at all by Alien 3, The Game was just what I needed to get excited about Fincher again and remember why I decided to go through all of his films in the first place.
The interesting premise of the film is this: Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), an uptight San Franciscan investment banker, receives a mysterious present from his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn). This present is a chance to participate in “the game,” which is something life-changing, but that’s all Van Orton can really get out of anybody about this thing. It’s like a game you play, but with your own life in the real world, but no one will really give Van Orton any more specifics than that. He probably would have just dismissed the whole thing and never given it another thought, but he ends up in the company’s (Consumer Recreation Services, abbreviated to CRS) offices the next day and decided to check it out. The salesman he talks to, Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn), sort of talks him into it by saying he can just call out of the game at any time, so he might as well give it a shot. Van Orton doesn’t really agree, but he doesn’t really disagree either, so Feingold gives him a bunch of psychological and physical tests for his application and sends him on his merry way.
Before Van Orton is officially in the game, we get some background information about just how depressing his life is, only he doesn’t necessarily realize it. He goes back to empty house every night, says good night to his housekeeper on her way out, and watches CNN all by himself. This is his birthday, too. He has an ex-wife who calls, but that’s about it. They only talk for like a minute. And oh yeah, he has just reached the age that his dad committed suicide at. That’s unsettling, and as the film goes on it seems he has been trying to live up to his father this whole time, and it’s turning him into a cold human being.
In the middle of a business meeting, he gets a call from CRS saying his application to the game has been rejected. He doesn’t really care one way or the other, he was only a bit curious in the beginning anyway. He’s more upset that his meeting was interrupted. It’s pretty clear though, after a while, that this is just a trick that’s part of the game. In fact, that’s what most of what to follows is, a part of the game. Van Orton doesn’t stay unrejected for very long however. He gets back home, and finds a creepy wooden clown in his driveway. A key is inside its mouth, engraved with “CRS.” Definitely a part of the game. Then his TV starts talking to him, and confirms as much. It still won’t tell him what the object of the game is, besides that it’s to find out what the object of the game is. The whole thing is bizarre, creepy, and a little bit funny in a twisted sort of way.
Things start slow. First, he goes to an important business meeting and can’t open his briefcase with crucial papers inside. He freaks out trying to open this thing. I forget the exact order of things because most of it is really strange and doesn’t make sense. He goes to meet his brother again, but he doesn’t show. A waitress (Deborah Kara Unger) spills a drink on him and he is told to follow her. They end up saving a man in a car accident and getting stuck in an elevator after the power goes out. The next day, his American Express card turns up at a hotel he hasn’t been to. In the room reserved in his name, there seems to have been a wild party, complete with drugs, scandalous photos, and a gigantic mess that’s sure to cost a lot. He thinks he’s been set up by a business rival, but that turns out not to be it. He meets up with his brother and the waitress again, but they’re not helping him much. Conrad seems crazy and the waitress is just misleading him. It’s hard to tell just what this game thing is, and the final suspicion Van Orton has is that it’s a con to get all of his money (he is rich after all). Unbelievable stuff keeps happening to him, and it all culminates in a way that I did not (fully) see coming.
My favorite scene has to be when Van Orton comes home to find his place completely vandalized. It’s spray painted with glow in the dark paint, all over the place, and blaring is Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” I really love that song, and nothing says “I have no control over my life” quite like it. Van Orton doesn’t know what to do for awhile, and just looks around at the damage. Fincher’s camera spins chaotically, perfectly capturing his state of mind. It ends with a horrible reminder for Van Orton, as well as a crucial bit of foreshadowing. The whole thing is ridiculous, a bit funny, but mostly horrifying, just like the entire film. The spray paint plays into the chosen Fincher color scheme for the film, which is mostly on the blue side of gray. At other times its more of a brown-yellow, but for the most part I think it’s blue-gray.
The only real problem I have with this film is the ending. It doesn’t quite jive, in my opinion, with what comes before. Without going into spoiler territory, because you really don’t want to be spoiled on this one, trust me, I’ll just say that Van Orton seems to behave rather uncharacteristically at the end, meaning he has actually bought into the game when all is said and done. Looking back on it, this bothers me a lot actually. It’s something I think Fincher has a fondness for in his films, and it’s something I don’t really agree with: the characters in his films often seem to get their whole lives completely messed up and out of their control, and generally they’re completely fine with it. That’s exactly what happens here, but it doesn’t happen until the end. It only last a couple minutes while Fincher is wrapping everything up. I suppose that’s why I didn’t have such an issue with it as I did with Fight Club, because Van Orton was very unhappy with the whole idea of the game when it was going on, which to me seems like the sane reaction.
Another thing about this film that I’m not really sure about, is how it will stand up on repeated viewings. I’m inclined to think at this moment that there is enough suspense here that it will be able to hold up, but I can recognize even now that a lot of it is simply surprise, very well executed and surprising, but surprise nonetheless. There were several moments in this film where I was taken off guard by some element of the game, but I’m unsure if I will be quite as taken in on a second viewing. Hopefully Douglas’s performance will help with this, because I thought he was very good at showing how everything was getting out of control little by little, and how crazy he seemed by the end was fantastic. He built it up perfectly, and even more importantly, I was able to get behind him as a character even though he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world.
The Game is a really strong movie in my opinion. It helped me put a lot of things together in terms of Fincher’s filmography as a whole, and gets me really excited to see the rest of the films on his list. I really needed to get motivated again in regards to him, and The Game certainly managed to do that. It was dark and twisted, two Fincher must haves, had the color scheme, and used a slow build in insanity and a great performance by Michael Douglas to give the viewer one heck of a ride. Maybe The Game really is onto something, because it was messing with me for its entire run time and I couldn’t have been happier when it was all over.
“I am extremely fragile right now.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars