Sunday, January 29, 2012

REVIEW: The Game (1997)

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

David Fincher has done better works than this movie, but The Game is interesting and remarkable for reasons outside of the usual fantastic cinematography and acting, namely the way it plays with the viewer’s expectations and the whole general idea of storytelling. This is at once a serious film and a bit of a farce, dually a suspenseful thrill ride and perhaps the greatest attempt at pulling the wool over the eyes of the audience I’ve ever seen. But it’s one thing to tell you that, and quite another to actually explain myself, so let’s go ahead and do that.

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn

The Game’s basic premise is that Michael Douglas plays a rich billionaire named Nicholas Van Orton who gets a present from his derelict brother, inviting him to participate in a ‘game’ with a strange company called CRS. The film quickly turns into a high speed paranoid thriller in which Orton and a young, mysterious woman named Christine (or is that her real name at all?) embark on a wild ride of conspiracies, betrayals and twists that build up like a rising wave.

The film’s pace is fast and fluid, moving seamlessly from one thrill to the next, and as such, its 2+ hour runtime flies by like nothing. What I like about this movie on the surface is that it feels like a descent into madness, slowly becoming more and more alarming and surreal as it goes on until the electrifying climax. This is a very tense movie that never lets up, and for that it’s addictive.

As it goes on, we see Nicholas thrown into a bay in a speeding, out of control taxi. We see him in one particularly chilling scene stranded with nothing in the desert wastelands around Mexico, reduced to a beggar, without any of his riches or charm. These scenes are beautifully shot and add to the diversity of the film, pulling the viewer in and making him or her take notice.

At this point, the Mexican detour, the movie is unquestionably bleak and looks to be a commentary on the follies of the rich, and how they can be brought down to the level of the paupers they ignore. Right? Not exactly. After Nicholas gets back to the city, he tracks down the people who put him in the ‘game’ and puts them at gunpoint, especially the traitorous Christine, who suddenly gets very hesitant and jumpy…

The plot twist is finally revealed – the whole thing has been a huge set-up for Nicholas’s birthday party! Nothing that has happened is real at all, or at the very least, is dangerous at all. The entire movie has basically been a big joke. This is not a comedic film, nor has it given you any real context or set-up for what it does at the ending, so really it becomes an incredibly bizarre film that plays with its audience like nothing else I’ve ever seen. It becomes funny by virtue of being so out-of-left-field, so surreal. The whole film was previously set up on nail-biting suspense and outrageous tension – until the ending reveals it all to be a big farce. This is really a brilliant way to take the piss out of the audience’s expectations. I can understand why some people hate it, but really it’s great by virtue of just coming out of nowhere! This is an ending nobody would ever expect, and for that it is genius. Wry, tongue-in-cheek, whimsical genius, yes, but genius all the same. Hats off to Fincher for another winner of a movie.

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