|The Game (1997; Polygram Filmed Entertainment)|
Director: David Fincher
Writers: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn
The Game is the first film by David Fincher to appear on this list. The story revolves around a wealthy businessman named Nicholas Van Orton who seems to have lost his way, at least in the eyes of his brother, Conrad. For Nick’s birthday, Conrad gives him a pass for a company that provides a strange role playing game that is interweaved into the "player's" daily life. He reluctantly follows through with the gift and what follows is a bizarre, twisting and dark series of events where you never know what is truly real, and what is all part of the game. Along the way, he meets a woman who becomes an unexpected ally through the course of events.
By the time The Game was released, David Fincher had already established himself as a talented filmmaker with his 1995 film, Seven. His dark, complex cinematic style has become a trademark and his talent for weaving together complex ideas into solid and cohesive stories is undeniable. The Game is an extremely deep fantasy, where the real world seems to disappear into the background as the events become more and more bizarre. The interesting aspect of The Game is how the story is told. We experience the events almost solely from the perspective of the protagonist, where rarely a single scene goes by where Nick is not present, so the audience experiences the threatening “game” exactly as he does.
The distinct style of Fincher begins to mature in this film. The dark imagery, the creepy use of things like clowns and more abstract images like formless shadows and even the simplest reflections on stone walls are used to create a dreamlike atmosphere. The mood of the film is easily its biggest strength. It is unsettling, and this sense of unease throughout is palpable and effective. Michael Douglas gives a good performance as a man who transforms through the film, starting off as a cynical and almost bitter man. As the film goes on, and the game becomes more and more unnerving, we experience this arc with him. Survivalist instincts take over and we see this in Douglas’ most subtle actions and expressions. It is a great performance from a seasoned actor and it only adds to the strangeness of the events, as we can read his response and mimic him sympathetically.
The first time sitting through The Game is quite the experience. It really is not the kind of movie that holds up to countless re-watches, however, because once we see the end, there really is no journey anymore. Still, a new watcher of this film will likely find themselves puzzled, captivated and excited about the unfolding story. This is a must-see for fans of complex films and puzzling mysteries.