The Game (1997)
Penn's Game Controls Douglas
Discovering the object of the game is the object of the game - Daniel Schorr
There is a line in "The Game" where the main character Nicholas Van Orton says "I don't really understand it myself" which pretty much sums up how I feel about "The Game" as it is one of the most confusing movies I have watched. Admittedly the first time I watched the Michael Douglas lead thriller I was kept interested, trying to work out what was happening, whether it was reality or not, but then when you get to the end and start to think it over or if like me you watch it again and look for those clues to usher in the ending you are left disappointed by the huge plot holes which make "The Game" quite a mess all but an entertaining one.
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas - Disclosure) a very wealthy investment banker is happy spending his life alone even when it comes to his birthday. But he gets a surprise when his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn - Fast Times at Ridgemont High) returns after having disappeared from his life several years earlier and gives him a present which grants him entry to an unusual entertainment called "The Game" provided by something called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Curiosity gets the better of Nicholas and after visiting CRS all kinds of strange things start to happen to him as his life spirals out of control.
The trouble with "The Game" is that you never really know what is going on, who is real, who is part of the "game" or whether what we actually see is in fact some drug fuelled altered reality. At first it feels very clever, we get lead up dark alleys, a TV presenter starts talking directly to Nicholas whilst apparently reading the financial news and you are literally trying to piece together the puzzle to work out what is happening before you get to the end. But then it all ends up falling to bits as the clues never really have answers, pieces of the puzzle don't actually fit and at a rough guess I would say that over half of what you watch is all red herrings. Clever it may be, but not that clever to really make sense.
But despite this "The Game" is an engaging movie and not just because it pulls you in to try and solve the puzzle of what is going on. Director David Fincher relies heavily on very dark scenes to build a lot of atmosphere and it works perfectly to create tension and mystery. In contrast he will suddenly smack you in the face with what could be classed as an over exposed scene allowing the blunt contrast between dark and light to add to the heady confusion. Add to the mix and ever present back story which concerns the suicide of Nicholas & Conrad's father, which is always there adding to the clues as to what is happening providing some meaning to various scenes.
What is very apparent is that "The Game" is Michael Douglas's movie and from recollection I am sure he appears in every scene. Not a bad thing to be honest as it is another knock out performance from the great actor. His early scenes where he naturally displays the seemingly cold and arrogant business like Van Orton are spot on and remind me of one of his greatest performances as Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street". But then as the movie evolves and his life becomes out of control as the "game" appears to be taking grip you can easily see the despair as he doesn't know what is happening and who he can trust. Again this performance is reminiscent of another great Douglas performance that of William Foster in "Falling Down". Whilst the movie may end up a convoluted mess Douglas's performance gives the movie a lot of credibility.
Despite sharing the billing Sean Penn as Nicholas's brother Conrad and Deborah Kara Unger as Christine really are left sitting on the subs bench with just a handful of scenes between them. In some ways this is good as Douglas does a stand out job of leading "the Game" and doesn't require a huge amount of support to keep it interesting. But then Penn and Unger both do a good job in their limited scenes adding a lot too the whole mystery of what the "game" is.
Without spoiling the ending all I can say is that not only does it feel outrageously convoluted and a little long but if you can tie it back to all the clues you are doing a better job than me.
What this all boils down to is that ignoring the gaping plot holes "The Game" is with out a doubt a very classy, well made movie which achieves its aim of drawing you into the story and making you try and work out what is going on. Michael Douglas is brilliant in the lead role and makes everything feel a lot more plausible than it actually is. "The Game" is certainly worth a watch but second viewings in an attempt to understand what is actually going on may leave you disappointed.
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