The Game (1997)

2011 #15a
David Fincher | 123 mins | DVD | 15 / R

The Game

“I envy you. I wish I could go back and do it for the first time, all over again. Here’s to new experiences.”

So says a fellow member of Nicholas Van Orton’s club when asked about what ‘the game’ is. He could be talking about the film.

Having seen it a few times over the years (it may well have been the first Fincher film I saw, though it would’ve been unknowingly), I’ve come to the conclusion that The Game is by far at its best on your first viewing, when you don’t know how it will end and it’s stuffed with mysteries and twists. That’s not to say it doesn’t bear repeat viewings — as with most twist-ending-ed films, there’s naturally some interest in seeing it again knowing what’s going on — but a lot of the film’s enjoyment comes from being played with, the back-and-forth of what the truth is.

It remains an enthralling, well-made thriller. Information on characters and plot are carefully metered out to the viewer, as it wisely follows Michael Douglas’ Nicholas Van Orton exclusively — the viewer is placed on the ride with him, which is part of why it works and part of why it’s not as good when you know where it’s going. (Obviously we have some superior knowledge even the first time, because unlike Nicholas we know it won’t end after only 20 minutes, or 90 minutes, or…) Aside from the more visceral thrills of a thriller, the film does offer some thematic points about Nicholas’ life — what’s missing from it, from him as a person, etc. — but these are more of a nice undertone than a major factor. Arguably Fincher would explore similar ground more thoroughly, though focused on a younger generation, in his next film.

I also think The Game stands out in Fincher’s filmography as not being particularly Fincher-y. He’s made equally as mainstream-friendly fare since — Panic Room, Benjamin Button, The Social Network — so the fact The Game doesn’t have as shocking a kick as Alien³, Se7en or Fight Club is not that unusual. More so, it’s not as stylishly directed or shot as any of his other films. It’s not badly done at all, but the cinematography is unremarkable and the direction is good without being any more. Many other competent directors could have been responsible — there’s no sign of his unique touch, probably his only film (that I’ve seen anyway) not to display that. To sum up: well-made, just not distinctive.

I’d very much intended for this review to be a defence of The Game — I’ve always really liked it, but it tends to get lost amongst Fincher’s more provocative and, yes, better films. Watching it again, though, I couldn’t help but realise I used to like The Game more than I do now. After a couple of watches it becomes like a holiday photo album: a nice record and reminder of good times had, rather than ones experienced anew.

If you’ve not seen it, I envy you — I wish I could go back and see it for the first time all over again.

4 out of 5

The Game is on ITV4 tonight, Sunday 28th September 2014, at 9pm.

I watched The Game as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.

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