The Game (1997)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #34

Players Wanted

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 128 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 12th September 1997 (USA)
UK Release: 10th October 1997
First Seen: TV, c.2000

Stars
Michael Douglas (Wall Street, Basic Instinct)
Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Milk)
Deborah Kara Unger (Crash, Stander)

Director
David Fincher (Panic Room, Gone Girl)

Screenwriters
John Brancato (The Net, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines)
Michael Ferris (Terminator Salvation, Surrogates)

The Story
What do you buy the man who has everything? After high-flying businessman Nicholas Van Orton is enrolled in a mysterious alternate reality game by his estranged brother, it’s no surprise that unusual things start to happen. But as those happenings begin to take on a sinister edge, it may be Nicholas has been targeted by something more serious, and potentially life-threatening.

Our Hero
Nicholas Van Orton is an immensely successful financier, but so low on friends that he even spends his birthday completely alone. He could do with fun in his life, or so believes his brother… or does he?

Our Villains
The game is run by a company called Consumer Recreation Services, or CRS. But they just run games… or do they?

Best Supporting Character
Early on in his experience, Nicholas runs into waitress Christine, who has also been affected by the game… or is she actually a part of it? Just who can he trust?!

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

Memorable Scene
On the run and tired, Nicholas hops in a cab. He doesn’t notice the doors lock, until the maniacal cab driver begins to speed down the hill. As Nicholas desperately tries to escape, the driver leaps out — and the cab soars into the river, with Nicholas trapped inside…

Awards
1 Saturn nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)

What the Critics Said
“Crafted with a commanding, aloof precision by David Fincher in his first outing since hitting the jackpot with Seven, this unusual dive into the ambiguous world of an undefined pastime without apparent rules generates a chilly intellectual intrigue that will arouse buffs, trendies and techies more than it will mainstream [audiences. It] projects the same sense of suffocating enclosure and mounting despair in a style that will inevitably be compared to that of Stanley Kubrick in its steely technical mastery and remote, disenchanted worldview, all in the service of a story that resembles a highbrow puzzle as much as it does an involving narrative.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

Score: 72%

What the Public Say
“just when we’ve finally come to a part of the story we can accept and trust, it turns out that we’ve once again been led astray. In this cinematic game, Fincher’s directorial ability wins out; his ability to pace his films; to completely draw the audience’s attention in whichever direction he requires, as well as keeping them emotionally attached to the protagonists is a balancing act which Fincher has mastered time and again over his career, and The Game is no exception.” — jyapp8715, Through the 4th Wall

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed The Game as part of a retrospective on Fincher’s films back in 2011, saying it “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.”

Verdict

In fairness, The Game probably comes near the bottom of my top 100, because I remain a little dubious about its re-watch value — not because it’s poorly made (far from it), but because the twists and reveals are such a big part of its appeal, and once you know them, you know them. Also, arguments continue between its fans and its haters about whether the plot makes sense or not, and how much that actually matters — personally, I think it makes enough sense (maybe for some parts you have to switch on your “it’s a movie” filter, however). The reason it makes my list nonetheless is the quality of a first viewing, especially if you do buy into its conceit and just go with it. Few other films have kept me guessing from the start up to the very closing moments, and consequently on the edge of my seat throughout. That experience may be unrepeatable, but as one-time deals go, it was immeasurably memorable and effective.

#35 will be… the hands that built America.

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4 thoughts on “The Game (1997)

  1. Hmm, I always thought of this as low-rent Fincher, although I know it is highly regarded by some (I do hope the Criterion blu gets a release over here eventually as I’m region-locked). I think the casting of Douglas works against it, I’ve never been a big fan of his. In hindsight its an indication of the way Finchers career would go. Pedestrian effective thrillers but hardly the gamechangers he’s capable of. To be fair to Fincher, if it was a Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant it would be held up as some kind of classic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely at the lower end of Fincher’s CV, though for me that speaks to the overall quality of his work as much as it does any faults with The Game. I think his non-gamechanger films tend to be excellent examples of their genre, which for a lot of other filmmakers would be enough, it’s just that he’s capable of even better.

      Like

  2. I love this movie. Missteps on the part of David Fincher are rare but I have to admit I wish he was still making movies like this. I also find myself wishing sometimes that this was a real company and that I would be allowed to play.

    Liked by 1 person

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