David Fincher, he's typecast, but for a good thing. He's not been pigeon-holed into one genre or type of movie. For lack of better description, he makes good, smart, quality movies. Ready for the twist? I don't know if Fincher's 1997 movie The Game is one of those movies.
A highly successful investment banker living in San Francisco, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is "celebrating" his 48th birthday. While he's business successful, he is all alone other than his housekeeper and lives a quiet, lonely (it appears) life. Nicholas is visited by his younger brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), who gives him a mysterious birthday present; a card with a telephone number to a company that will get Nicholas involved in a similarly mysterious, cryptic game. Without really knowing why, Nicholas goes along with 'the game' and soon finds himself in an ever-evolving situation that he has absolutely NO control over. Can he figure out the game that threatens to take him over? Is this what Conrad intended?
When 'Game' works, it really works. Fincher shows a knack for building tension to the point it's almost unbearable. The unsettling quiet, the dark, shadowy streets, the feeling that something horrific is right around the corner. It's all there. It's so nerve-wracking that for most of the first 90 minutes, I was actually uncomfortable watching it. It's good uncomfortable, but you know what I mean. What the hell is this game Nicholas is involved in? What's the point? What's the end game? Weird things happen all around him, some that could be coincidental, others not at all, clearly examples of somethings and someone being manipulated.
The sense of not knowing is what makes much of this movie so easily recommendable. Fincher filmed in San Francisco, a city that's never looked bad on-screen. It is a great backdrop for the story. The city becomes a shadowy, sinister character, holding all sorts of terror and fear. There were times it even reminded me of a modern Hitchcock movie, and that's never a bad thing. A modern Hitchcock film noir full of shadows, secrets and all sorts of sinister mysteries, it's a great ride.
And then it isn't. Somewhere it just becomes too much. This is a movie/script/screenplay that has plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through. Even now as I write this review, I keep thinking of more instances where the story has dumb luck, coincidence or maybe Fate itself willing something to happen. It is convoluted beyond belief, and that's fine if it builds to something acceptable that makes it all worthwhile. At some point, it has to all click into place. Unfortunately, it doesn't. The twist is disappointing in so many ways including one scene that defies logic. I won't describe it here -- experience the badness for yourself -- but so many separate items need to come together for it to work that there is NO HUMAN WAY this could have worked. We're talking an inch difference, even a foot, and the movie ends completely different. Not making sense? Watch it, and see for yourself.
Keeping the movie based in some sort of enjoyment is Michael Douglas in the lead. An individual who's used to controlling every little thing about his life thrust into a situation that's the complete opposite? Oh, he isn't going to enjoy that at all, is he? I like Douglas as an actor, and he's a great choice here to play Nicholas. Even when he's pretentious and condescending and an a-hole, you can't help but like him a little. His complete unraveling is key because it's not overdone. It's believable. Penn's appearance is nothing more than a cameo, three or four quick scenes. They're effective, but short. Deborah Kerr Unger is solid as Christine, a waitress mixed up with the game who may or may not be helping Nicholas. Also look for James Rebhorn, Carroll Baker, Peter Donat, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Anna Katarina in key supporting parts.
A mixed bag in the end. Great build-up, great tension, and an imposing sense of doom hanging over the story. The execution is there for the most part, building to an almost unbearable point, but the ending falls short in a big way for me. Still worth watching though. The parts that work do just enough to overshadow the weaknesses of the finale.
The Game <---trailer (1997): ** 1/2 /****