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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 26.67%
Average: 20%
Pretty Bad: 4.44%
Total Crap: 5.56%

5 reviews, 60 user ratings

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Game, The (1997)
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by Mel Valentin

"Slick, stylish, if ultimately superficial, neo-noir thriller."
4 stars

David Fincherís third film (after "Alien3" and "Sev7en"), "The Game," is a psychological thriller constructed a fascinating conceit: an interactive, real-world game without discernible rules, played by bored wealthy elites that, at least for the initially alienated, isolated protagonist, goes dangerously awry. Shot mostly at night in and around San Francisco, "The Game" combines a neo-noir visuals with a storyline that draws heavily from the paranoid conspiracy thrillers briefly popular in the mid-1970s (e.g., "Marathon Man," "All the Presidentís Men," "Three Days of the Condor," "The Parallax View," "The Conversation"). Loaded with plot twists, turns, switchbacks, and reversals (some more credibility-stretching than others), as a standalone film (as opposed to a film in Fincherís oeuvre), "The Game" is slick, stylish, if ultimately superficial, entertainment.

The Game centers on Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a materially rich, but spiritually (and emotionally) poor investment banker. Van Orton lives alone in the mansion once owned by his late father (Charles Martinet), with only his housekeeper, Ilsa (Carroll Baker), to keep him company. On the verge of turning 48, Van Orton broods about his fatherís death by suicide at the same age. Van Orton is doubly haunted by his fatherís death: he witnessed his fatherís suicidal leap from the roof of the mansion. As his birthday approaches, he coldly rebuffs his ex-wife Elizabethís (Anna Katarina) attempts to engage him. He continues, however, planning for a European trip that will take him to the offices of one of his companyís subsidiaries, where he hopes to push the publisher, Anson Baer (Armin Mueller-Stahl), into early retirement.

Nicholasí younger, neíer-do-well brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), gives him a unique gift, a ďgameĒ offered by Consumer Recreation Services (CRS), for his birthday. Conrad claims heís participated in the life-changing game and promises itíll do the same for Van Orton. Skeptical at first, Van Orton visits CRSí offices where a CRS rep, Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn), guides him through a full battery of psychological and physical tests, but refuses to explain the nature or rules of the game, only that itíll begin soon. Still doubtful about the game, Van Orton attempts to call Conrad and cancel the game, but when he arrives home, he finds a man-sized puppet in his driveway. He extracts a CRS key from the puppetís mouth. As he ponders what to do next, the financial news anchor, Daniel Schorr, begins to talk directly to Van Orton. Schorr describes some basic rules, mostly the location and use of objects that will become necessary.

The mystery deepens, however, when, after returning from his business trip abroad, his brother fails to show up. Van Ortonís waitress, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger), spills some wine on Van Orton and is promptly fired. A note left by another waiter informs Van Orton to follow her. When he does, a series of nightmarish adventures ensue, inescapably leading to the conclusion that CRSí intentions arenít as benign as Conrad suggested or Van Orton initially thought. The line between fiction and reality continues to blur, causing Van Orton to doubt everyone around him, including Christine, who may or may not be a CRS employee, his close personal advisor and family attorney, Samuel Sutherland (Peter Donat), and even Conrad, who appears unexpectedly one night, claiming that CRS blackmailed him into involving Van Orton in the game.

As both Van Orton and the audience learn simultaneously, an interactive game that blends fiction and reality through role-playing can have unexpected consequences, some emotional, others physical, and maybe even financial. CRS refuses to disclose the rules of the ďgameĒ to Van Orton, only that heíll have a memorable experience. Van Orton gets more than he asked for, of course. The game is meant to push Van Orton into a speeded-up twelve-step program where he examines himself and the choices heís made critically and, time allowing, attempts to make amends. To get there and to get to The Gameís explicit scenes of renewal and resurrection, Van Orton has to lose everything, material and otherwise. He also has to lose control over everything, something he obviously fights until the last or second-to-last scene.

If the screenplay by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Surrogates, Terminator: Salvation, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The Net), with an uncredited rewrite by Andrew Kevin Walker (The Wolf Man, Sleepy Hollow, 8mm, Se7en), has any problems, itís in the cop=out ending, especially in light of Fincherís previous film, the nihilistic Se7en and in the choice of an investment banker as the protagonist. Fincher and his screenwriters try to make Van Orton moderately sympathetic, a difficult task giving his wealthy, investment banker status (less controversial twelve years ago, but no more relatable or sympathetic). Given The Gameís simplistic themes (i.e., living life fully or completely, not taking anything in your life for granted), itís a stretch to care about Van Ortonís fate.

More than a decade later, [i]The Game[/i] remains more than watchable due to Douglasí anxiety-ridden performance and Fincherís effortlessly efficient direction, including several superbly shot and edited set pieces that take full advantage of San Francisco locations. Everything in Jeffrey Beecroftís production design and Harris Savidesí moody cinematography carefully emphasizes Van Ortonís isolation and alienation (unsurprising, of course, given Fincherís reputation as a filmmaker obsessed with mis-en-scene).

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originally posted: 03/02/11 10:56:33
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User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell tense & well made had problems with the ending 4 stars
2/25/15 stanley welles an exercise in plotting rather than characterization, albeit an elegantly directed one 3 stars
9/03/12 Courtney Incredible acting by Michael Douglas. Another great Fincher movie. 5 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison One of David Fincher's weaker films but still better than Alien 3. 3 stars
10/31/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome Story! 5 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold Fincher's worst. 3 stars
8/12/07 Quigley Great puzzle of a film. Douglas is good. Superb direction by Fincher. Unreal ending, though 5 stars
6/13/07 al smith amazing script,acting and directing.gripping from start to finish 5 stars
11/06/06 Chris a good movie that held my interest. Have watched several times. 5 stars
10/22/06 Dillon A disturbingly clever thriller. 5 stars
12/03/05 Jennifer S. Kept me guessing the whole way through! I loved it! 5 stars
8/28/05 Evan Stupid people won't get this 5 stars
8/26/05 ES So confusing it looses you before the end, by then you probably won't care what's going on 2 stars
7/29/05 Nobody Truly amazing and suspenseful thriller. Made me almost give up trying to guess the end. 5 stars
3/18/05 indrid cold A mindbender even for modern, jaded audiences that expect twists and turns. 4 stars
11/25/04 Abbath Great concept, gets you very involved. 5 stars
11/12/04 jellica it was weird but i liked it 5 stars
8/16/04 Peter James Fans of the film should also see Se7en and Fight Club...more David Fincher work 5 stars
7/08/04 Spinz This movie ws SIKKKKK 5 stars
6/14/04 MyGreenBed Yet another good looking but lacking content film by Fincher (he needs better writers). 3 stars
3/21/04 john doesn't make a shred of sense once you think about it -utterly contrived and silly 1 stars
2/28/04 Kyle Razor-sharp filmmaking. Ranks among Fincher's best. 5 stars
11/20/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) 1 movie that is 100% fun, well-made, & UNPREDICTABLE. 5 stars
9/25/03 Buck Amazing mind game. Fincher's most underrated film. 5 stars
7/09/03 natasha_theobald messes with your head in a creative and entertaining way 5 stars
6/26/03 Geo78665 Really good, up until the pathetic ending. 4 stars
5/23/03 mr. Pink A great adrenaline ride that keeps you guessing until the very end! Thrilling! 5 stars
1/04/03 Marc Hayden Great Film, that would be the greatest present ever 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby An underrated masterpiece. Douglas' career-best performance. 5 stars
12/09/02 Agatha Great! 5 stars
11/24/02 Charles Tatum One of Fincher and Douglas' best 5 stars
10/23/02 palaboy101 Run to your local video rentals! 5 stars
4/09/02 jawsboy24 So far fetched, yet highly entertaining & well shot. The ending was great, but also silly. 4 stars
4/08/02 Nicole In no way realistic, but a great movie despite. 4 stars
4/03/02 Mo Anand Pretty good movie that keeps you watching 4 stars
3/25/02 Jimmy Great Movie !!! 5 stars
2/27/02 NWO4LIFE Highly entertaining, but I have mixed feelings about the ending. 4 stars
1/26/02 daniboy disappointing. I mean, it's David Fincher 2 stars
1/24/02 Andrew Carden Excellent Douglas Movie. 5 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk DAVID Fincher's third film is his second best next to Seven...Douglas is great. 5 stars
6/13/01 canuck When he jumps, how did they know where to put the net. So many plot holes. Yuck. 1 stars
5/22/01 Francois Asselin improbable but very entertaining 5 stars
4/04/01 Matthew Bartley I'm all in favour of suspension of disbelief but this was ridicolous! Really crap 2 stars
3/17/01 INCUBATOR Rulezzz 5 stars
2/16/01 Ray McCoy The ending: 5 mins of a 2 hr film and someone thinks it justifiable to comment Total Crap? 5 stars
2/12/01 Jake They ripped off the story from Total Recall. It sucked! 1 stars
1/05/01 Kelly Lotsa holes, but great escapism for 2 hours. A good fictional story. 4 stars
12/02/00 Angela Murtagh Very suspenseful...awesome! 5 stars
11/15/00 The EVIL Penguin This could happen to YOU!!!!!! 4 stars
11/03/00 Cristopher Revilla exellent movie, what an ending!!!! 5 stars
9/02/00 Rosalie Coleman I loved this movie! You could never tell exactly what was going on, a true mind fuck! 5 stars
4/14/00 JonnyAngel It's a MOVIE! 4 stars
3/03/00 Richard Wright I'm the first to vote Total Crap!Unbelieveable!Some good suspense,ruined by TERRIBLE ending 1 stars
6/09/99 Lucas jackson The movie was awesome,until the end 4 stars
2/18/99 Piz smart, dark, and fun...keeps u interested, needed a bit more action though. 4 stars
1/15/99 Dasha Interesting twists, but overall not really good 3 stars
11/25/98 Mr.Pink D. Fincher is one of the best directors around! This is one of the best thrillers of '90's 5 stars
8/24/98 The Capital City Goofball I felt dizzy. Which is usually good. Not this time. 3 stars
8/18/98 Johny Had no energy and was actually boring 2 stars
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  12-Sep-1997 (R)



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