In Nicholas Van Orton's (Michael Douglas) initial quest to discover what 'the game' is, he is told be a previous player that the answer is found in John 9:25 saying "Whereas once I was blind, but now I see." David Fincher's fourth film The Game (1997) is a thriller that is both smart in a literal and subtextual sense.Starring Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker named Nicholas Van Orton, The Game begins on his 48th birthday. Closed off from the world and purposefully isolated, Nicholas worships his wealth and his self-importance. When invited to lunch by his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), Nicholas is given a card for a company called CRS (Consumer Recreation Services). Conrad tells Nicholas that CRS will change his life, but Nicholas is suspicious as to what CRS actually is. The next day, Nicholas goes to work and overhears two of his co-workers talking about their experiences with CRS's game. He confronts them and discovers that every person who participates in CRS's game has a different experience catered to the life of the applicant. Upon learning this, Nicholas accidentally stumbles upon CRS's offices (oddly situated on the 14th level of the building he works at) and signs up for his game immediately, but only to have his application denied. Little did he know, his game had actually just begun. The events that follow cross the lines of the heinous as Nicholas tries to protect himself from a game that could redeem his soul. The Game also has an incredibly dramatic twist-ending (which I won;t give away).
Nicholas Van Orton is described by his brother Conrad as being "the man who has everything", so being rejected by CRS as the first part of his game is an essential element to the theme of the film. Living in his father's mansion, Nicholas begins to realize that he and his father (who committed suicide at age 48) may be very similar. Divorced by his wife because he was so focused on his money, Nicholas has no one except his maid who has worked for his family since he was a boy. Nicholas resents his brother, Conrad, because of his lack of ambition as he never went to college and had a period of drug addiction a few years before.
Haunted by the memory of his father's suicide, the game could be the one thing that can save Nicholas from suffering the same fate as his father before him.
Though The Game is a more mainstream Hollywood film, Fincher's artistry still shines through. The cinematographer, Harris Savides (who also filmed Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac), beautifully captures the darkness of wealth with an almost Godfather-esque visual style. Sure, the film is nowhere near as visually dark as Coppola's The Godfather (1972), but The Game depicts the cool leather chairs and deep mahogany desks with a sophistication and vicious quality. The flashbacks to the day of Nicholas' father's suicide were filmed in a super 8 film reel style which makes the footage both eerie yet sentimental. Set against Howard Shore's haunting piano score, the music amplifies the emotional resonance of these flashback sequences.
Michael Douglas is wonderful in this film. Michael, as a persona, is a master at portraying the wealthy with his class and sophistication (Gordon Gekko etc). When the game enters his life, his transformation from cool and collected transforms into paranoia. Specifically in his scenes with Sean Penn, Michael Douglas delivers a riveting performance as a man conflicted with his emotions towards his family.
Almost for the ending alone, The Game is a must-see (yet the film is so much more than just a great ending). Filled with depth and wonderful character development, The Game is a thriller masterpiece which established Fincher's status as a director worth watching.
My ranking: 4.9/5