Movies/Entertainment,  Off the Shelf

Off the Shelf…’The Game’

Let me just start off by saying that this write-up has been a long time coming. Ever since the post I wrote last year, I have been looking for the chance to evaluate this film again. The Game is one of my very favorite “twist-endings” of all time and a damn fine picture all around. Acting, direction, patented “Fincher” visuals, this movie has it all. So why don’t more people know about it?

It’s true if you say “David Fincher” to most film fans, you’ll hear them immediately respond with “Se7en” or Fight Club“…or maybe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which I just LOVE). Yet, only a certain number of people will say “The Game” and that saddens me how rampantly it is overlooked.

If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading and go buy it right now…for those of you know The Game…let’s continue playing:)

The pure beauty of the film is that the story is clouded in ambiguous misdirection when actually, it’s all right in front of you. I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and even though I know the ending very well, the film’s magnificence comes not from the “ah-ha” finale, but the varied and complex layering throughout the film. Man I would love to see the “master plan” of just how the hell they pulled it all off. The whole thing had to be orchestrated and executed with military type precision.

One reason I think this movie didn’t get anywhere close to the fanfare of Fincher’s other films is that when it was made, Michael Douglas was not the “in demand” actor he was in the 80’s. The Game wasn’t nearly as high-profile as Seven and Fight Club so this sensational film got lost amidst the popularity of the double dose of Brad Pitt, I think anyway. All I can tell you is that this film impresses me more and more with each viewing.

Douglas, in a really amazing role, makes one hell of an arc over the course of the film from “high and mighty” to “humble”. He really sold the detached and emotionally void Nichols Van Horton who secretly still laments the loss of his father. While I’m not a huge Sean Penn fan I found myself liking him more and more throughout the film. The two played off each other fairly well in their respective successful/deadbeat brother parts. Also, am I the only one thinking that Deborah Kara Unger is a greatly underused actress in Hollywood? There’s just something about her delivery that makes me want to see her in a lot more films.

As much as I love the film, I find a huge probability for error on roof top scene and the end of the movie. That could have gone horribly wrong had he jumped off the wrong side of the building (and I’m not sure a CRS employee could have stopped him in time). On the purely a psychological level, think about what it would have been like to be Nicholas at that point in the movie. You’re overwhelmed with so much guilt that you feel the need to commit suicide?? With a compromised emotional status, there’s just no telling what you would do or are capable of. So you throw yourself off a roof and find out it was all a game? “Surprise! Congratulations, you now have a new outlook on life”. If were me, I really would have shot somebody for putting me through all that.

But like any movie you still have to suspend some disbelief. What I really enjoy on repeat viewing is looking at every character on screen and trying to think “Are they, or aren’t they in on it?” It’s tough because you’ll never truly know and the brilliance of a film like this is that even after the reveal and the finale, it still keeps you guessing. It’ll also cause you to have conversations like this: “Everyone was in on it ? Like the whole city everyone?? No way…well that would account for the huge bill at the end. Damn even the “pen guy” was in on it?? Wow!!“. Yup, Fincher and writers (John D. BrancatoMichael Ferris are very nearly magicians in that respect for pulling this all off.

Finally, much like Nicholas’ conversation with the man at the country club bar, I too wish I could go back and do it all over again.

G-S-T Ruling: 5/5

G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED – This overlooked film is, what I consider to be, a Great Cinematic Treasure.


  • rtm

    Great review on an underrated movie! I agree wholeheartedly that though it’s not as ‘sensational’ as the other two Fincher movies you mention, this is a decent thriller that’s well-acted and also fun to watch. But then again, I like Douglas much more than Pitt.

    Ha! I felt the exact same way when I finally found out what really is going on, I don’t think I’d be as ‘forgiving’ to be given such a ‘gift.’

    • Marc

      Thanks Ruth…it’s just a solid movie and I like it because it also holds up well. But it’d take a lot for me to be grateful for the “lesson learned”. I always wonder, what that final bill actually came to. But like most things, it’s better to never know:P

  • Steve

    A great grab! This movie gets plenty of respect around the ol’ Cynics ranch and has a comfortable spot next to Fight Club & Seven in my collection’s auteur section. As far as I’m concerned, the only Fincher film that can stay off my shelf is Panic Room. Blecch!

    It’s neat watching this movie and seeing players mill about who might have been complete unknowns at the time, but now have recognizable faces – even the pen guy, that’s Ronnie Delmonico from Intelligence! When they pop up in later films, it’s almost like Fincher’s still playing a Game – and we’re ones getting played!

    This movie totally turned me around on Sean Penn, and was the perfect film for everybody’s favourite male martyr Michael Douglas – suffering for all our sins.

    Great review! Keep peddling the classics!

    • Marc

      Thanks Steve! That’s what we’re aiming for 🙂

      Panic Room was ok in concept but is definitely not his finest work. Although I love how he really pushes the limits of what CG could do and how he does more and more with each film. He actually suggested to Spike Jonze that he do Where the Wild Things Are (which worked fantastic imo). Also, not very fond of Alien 3, but I can see how his style was all over that.

      Haven’t seen Intelligence, but I particularly like seeing the desk clerk at the hotel before Douglas goes up to the trashed Suite. It’s friken “Chozen” from Karate Kid II:)

  • Aiden R

    I remember seeing this for the first time way back when and being blown away. I agree that it’s unfortunate how underappreciated this movie is, but hopefully once Fincher finally gets his due as one of the best directors of the last decade or so, the masses will be enlightened. Good stuff and good review, man.

    • Marc

      Thanks Aiden. Yeah some films, even it’s been a while since seeing them, stick with you and their impact can be hard to forget. I’m becoming an increasing fan of Fincher actually. But very true, the more time passes, the more Fincher will be revered as well as emulated by future filmmakers:)