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The Game
  [rating: 3 of 4 stars]movie review by Gary Johnson

Michael Douglas in The Game.
(©1997 Polygram Films. All rights reserved.)

For his first effort after the wildly popular Seven, director David Fincher gives us The Game, another harrowing tale told with a hypnotic rush of blistering images. However, this time the mood isn't quite so bleak. After all, it's just a "game"--or is it? That's the question faced by Michael Douglas. He plays a cold and distant investment banker named Nicholas Van Orton. "I move money from one place to another," he says. His brother Conrad (played by Sean Penn) gives him an unusual birthday present: a gift certificate for "game" time with a mysterious company called CRS--"A profound life experience," Conrad says with a sneer as he describes the services offered by the company. Another man tells him, "I envy you. I wish I could go back and do it again for the first time."

Nicholas doesn't know what to expect; no one will tell him what "the game" is all about. They only speak of it in cryptic terms: "Whereas I was blind, now I can see." Against his better instincts he activates the gift certificate by submitting to a grueling day-long battery of mental and physical tests. And then, as "the game" begins, his life becomes a living hell.

Michael Douglas and Deborah Unger in The Game.
(©1997 Polygram Films. All rights reserved.)

As "the game" sinks its teeth into Nicholas Van Orton, we're pulled along into a dizzying world of broken elevators, mysterious keys, flickering neon lights, and terrifying plunges into San Francisco Bay. It's sort of like Martin Scorsese's After Hours without the dark comedy. There's little to laugh about in The Game. Fincher keeps the mood oppressively serious, but every now and then he loosens the screws just slightly and allows you some hope. But then the waves of paranoia hit. Every movement, every ring of the phone, every person you meet--they all could be part of "the game." Who can you trust?

In The Game, director Fincher creates a dark, shadowy world. If we do see any bright sunlight, it's always on the outside of buildings, while we're stuck in shadows. By blocking out the sky and keeping us trapped inside alleys, parking garages, and sterile skyscrapers, Fincher creates a claustrophobic world where paranoia can swallow you whole.

Michael Douglas and Sean Penn in The Game.
(©1997 Polygram Films. All rights reserved.)

At times, The Game recalls the work of David Lynch: Fincher throws us into a situation that makes little sense and then he keeps us off balance by always changing the rules (as Lynch did in his nightmarish Lost Highway). At times, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but then we find out the light was just an illusion: now, we're even further lost and confused than before. However, while Lynch might drop us on a secluded back road and offer no way home; Fincher is kinder. He gives us rational explanations and allows us to walk out of the shadows unharmed.

Ultimately Fincher gives us a sane route back to reality, allowing us the opportunity to catch a long overdue breath of fresh air. But to restore some semblance of normality, the movie twists back on itself several times, and in the process, becomes too gimmicky for its own good. I'm not going to reveal what "the game" is really all about, but suffice it to say that the movie becomes like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, however, the gimmicky ending doesn't make a whit of sense and only cheapens the truly harrowing mood created by Fincher for the previous 90 minutes. Maybe David Lynch would have better served this material. He wouldn't have backed away to give us a safe, comfortable ending. But until the final 10 minutes, The Game is a mesmerizing experience, filled with malevolence and deceit. It's guaranteed to put you on the edge of your seat, cringing and wincing as he pulls you through a fun house of horrors.


Go to The Game Web site

A Polygram Films Presentation


Nicholas Van OrtonMichael Douglas
ConradSean Penn
ChristineDeborah Unger
Jim FeingoldJames Rebhorn
ElizabethAnna Katerina
Samuel SutherlandPeter Donat
LisaCarroll Baker
Anson BaerArmin Mueller-Stahl
Nicholas' FatherCharles Martinet
Young NicholasScott Hunter McGuire
Directed byDavid Fincher
Produced byCean Chaffin
Steve Golin
Written byJohn D. Brancato
Michael Ferris
Andrew Kevin Walker
Director of PhotographyHarris Savides
Production DesignerJeffrey Beecroft
Edited byJim Haygood
Music byHoward Shore
Costume DesignerMichael Kaplan
Co-ProducerJohn D. Brancato
Michael Ferris
Executive ProducerJonathan Mostow
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