When people think of David Fincher’s great back catalogue, they usually list Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room and Zodiac. There are two flaws to this response. Firstly, Panic Room was bollocks. Secondly, it misses out a relatively ignored movie from between Seven and Fight Club called ‘The Game’. It’s a shame too, as despite not being quite as good as some of his other efforts, it really is worth checking out.
The film follows depressed industrialist Nicholas van Ortan (Michael Douglas), a bitter, lonely man and approaching the age his father committed suicide. He’s approached by his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), who introduces him to “Consumer Recreation Services”, as a sure fire way of turning his life around and start enjoying himself. The name of the company doesn’t sound too exciting, but when it’s delivered by Penn, one of the few actors who could freak out Christian Bale in the world’s most intense staring competition, the intrigue sets in. However, upon signing up for it, Nicholas realises that “The Game” might not be quite so much fun, with the sinister and seemingly omniscient CRS intruding and overrunning his daily life.
Douglas and Penn are both excellent in their roles, though they seem well trained for it. Nicholas is very much a standard role for Douglas, the ultimate middle aged man on the edge, and quite frankly that’s exactly what’s required here. He starts the film a bit like a panel show "expert" who's found his conscience in his private jet’s overhead storage and realised how upset his simpering wannabes probably are when they’re publicly torn apart on television each week. By the end he reaches the level of badass-ery that out would make D-Fens from his earlier vigilante movie, Falling Down, cry. Penn also makes a great impression, though receives far less screen time, as the off the rails brother. Okay, it does seem like he’s just stumbled from Carlito’s Way through the hair and costume department and landed on the set, but his laid back rebellion is a perfect counter to Nicholas’ uptight anxiety.
Stylistically, it’s very much standard fare for Fincher and fits nicely between the Seven and Fight Club as a mid point progression in terms of themes and cinematography. Sadly, to explore anything more about the themes may steal some of the surprises from the movie, and they're some of the highlights of the film. What I can say is that The Game is a tightly plotted, fast paced thriller that, once started, captures the feel perfectly of Nicholas being pushed further into a nightmare that he may never be able to escape from. The special effects are brilliant and the surveillance methods at the CRS' disposal are the kinds of devices normally reserved for dystopian fiction. In some respects, it does feel quite similar to such work as Fahrenheit 451, where the protagonist is attacked from all sides, with a possible escape seeming more and more difficult.
The Game is a film I’d have no trouble recommending to anyone, especially Fincher fans. It’s a tautly crafted thriller with a labyrinthine mystery that will have you hooked from the start. Sadly it’s difficult to say more without ruining the film, and that could have been the problem from the very beginning for it. Do track it down though. As Conrad himself says, "it could make your life... fun".