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  • Nate Lemann


Updated: Jul 16

Our third entry in Fincher Month is his 1997 twisty thriller that puts Michael Douglas through the ringer…but for what purpose?

by Nate Lemann

Michael Douglas in "The Game"
Michael Douglas in "The Game"

There are two movies in the great career of David Fincher that have always been hard to truly get on the same page with: the first is “Alien 3”, which while containing many interesting elements, reeks of studio intervention and muddled, last-minute script changes. The second, is 1997’s “The Game”, a twisty and audacious ode to the Hitchcock pioneered “ordinary man in extraordinary situations” thriller genre. While this movie is truly built with far better craft and execution than “Alien 3”, it is ultimately undone by its baffling script. 

The first half of this film I actually feel is fairly flawless: we meet Michael Douglas’s Nicky as a titan of industry. He is a cold and heartless investment banker who seems to have reached the pinnacle of his career, though his home life is fairly bare. We get hints to a tragic backstory about his father (shot in the same style as the intro to “Succession”). As his birthday approaches, his screw-up brother Conny (a very exciting and great Sean Penn), visits him for the first time since they laid their dear mother to rest. He has a gift for Nicky: a card to take part in a “game” by a mysterious company called CRS. Conny and others Nicky meet are very reluctant give much more detail as to what this “game” consists of but as events in Nicky’s life begin to go sideways, he can’t help but think that this may all be part of an elaborate prank his brother is playing on him. But as the things begin to get out of hand and more dangerous, Nicky isn’t so sure this is just a game anymore. 

Douglas is so good in this role: his middle aged movie star persona was something so special. That is something we are missing now: a middle aged movie star willing to lead risky films. Douglas can play a bastard so well but can still have an audience root for him. It's a real crime he never played an out-and-out villain (Gordon Gekko is more complicated than a mere villain) because he can convey such menace and dark intentions better than most actors. Penn is so good as the shithead brother. He can be so charming and yet you know this guy is the biggest flake you’ve ever met. Deborah Kara Unger and James Rebhorn are so exceptional and are given such time to shine in what could’ve just become the Michael Douglas show. 

Where things all fall apart is when the game goes from creepy to outright hostile (a little after the halfway point of the movie). This film goes beyond stretching credulity, bashing its head in with a Gallagher sized mallet. I won’t go beat-by-beat through all the absurd plot machinations but suffice it to say: "What the literal shit?!?" As a Hitchcock homage, its exceptional in tone and cinematography, along with Fincher’s expert pacing. That said, the screenplay throws too many balls into the air at once and has no chance in hell to even catch a single one. Everytime I watch this, I hope to get one the same wavelength with it. The first hour accomplishes that but fails so horribly in its conclusion that it taints the rest of the picture. Especially once you know the ending, it's just not a movie you can revisit without having more questions. 


FINAL RATING: 3/5 (Expertly made but poorly conceived)

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Hi! I'm Nate and I love to talk all things movies. I'll be posting new reviews, recent rewatches, and much more on this site. So come on and let's talk movies! 

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