The Game

Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn
Written by Chris Winterbottom

I adore the work of David Fincher. At least two films of his are wrestling with other classics to break into my top ten films of all time. To sit down and revisit the filmography of a director of this stature is a real pleasure and I have now seen all of Fincher’s work, save for the much maligned ‘Alien 3’. Although as a completist, it is on my “to watch” list. ‘The Game’ is one of Fincher’s earliest films and came off the back of the successful ‘Se7en’ – a film which is one of my aforementioned favourites. My expectations were high. Unfairly high, you could argue, although I would counter by saying there is nothing wrong with expecting greatness from a genius. It was to my bitter disappointment that ‘The Game’ suffered from a rather dull story and a twist that was so stupid, it made ‘The Happening’ look inspired.

The story centres on Michael Douglas’s character, Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy but lonely San Francisco banker. With his 48th birthday drawing closer, Nicholas is visited by his long-estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn), who presents Nicholas with an unusual birthday gift. A curious Nicholas gives in to the perks of this present, but finds that bad things start to happen to him. The premise of the film did not make any sense to me at all to be honest, and this is where the film failed. In its opening few moments, Fincher failed to do what he usually does so well; grip the audience. In fact, I was lost within the first fifteen minutes and I did not recover.

Michael Douglas, a criminally underrated actor, does his best in injecting some tension, but ‘The Game’ was irrevocably lacklustre. The film follows the usual Fincher structure of a slow, methodical build up, but this is like a dripping tap and unlike Fincher’s more successful films, the water is tepid.

The cinematography, however, is beautiful – as is typical of any of Fincher’s work. His films always have a low-key, orange glow to their aesthetic, where the screen shimmers with vitality and ‘The Game’ is no different. The picture has a sepia tone to it, which adds a considerable amount of atmosphere and splendour to proceedings. But it is the story that lets the film down and no amount of cinematic splendour can save a poor script. There are some interesting camera movements and novel direction on display here, suggesting that this project was really built for Fincher to hone his craft before he went on to bigger and much, much better things.

The final act of the film left me so angry, I had to pause the DVD and leave my room. After nearly two hours of complete and utter boredom, enduring the convoluted build up and the efforts made to rack up some tension, the twist was revealed and rarely have I had my intelligence insulted so badly before. The worst aspect of this is not the stupidity of the final reveal – I have seen enough M. Night Shyamalan movies to become disillusioned with such a device – it is more the fact that it came from Fincher or that he believed this was a good idea.

I have to say that the film is not terrible. But it is far from excellent, and with a director as good as David Fincher helming the project, ‘The Game’ could, and should have been so much more.

THE GAME

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