And the Oscar goes to…Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech.” You may be asking yourself, why is this review for “The Game” beginning with a reference to the most recent winner of the Best Director Academy Award? Well, because the same director who should’ve won at this year’s Oscars ceremony for “The Social Network” also helmed the great 1997 thriller, “The Game.” Starting off his career in visual effects and music videos for such artists as Madonna and The Rolling Stones, David Fincher has gone on to make some of the greatest and most unique thrillers and dramas of the last two decades – “Seven,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and the aforementioned Facebook chronicle, to name a few. However, until I see what he accomplishes with his much-anticipated version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (out this fall), “The Game” remains Fincher’s crowning achievement.
Centering on wealthy investment banker Nicholas Van Orton, “The Game” opens on the brink of his 48th birthday. His estranged brother, Conrad, suddenly returns with a gift from a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Giving in to his curiosity, Nicholas visits CRS to learn that they provide the ultimate diversion for the super-rich by turning their lives into a game. As CRS puts it, they “make your life fun.” But, soon after Nicholas’ visit, all kinds of strange and horrible things begin to happen to him.
Fincher brings the depth of Nicholas’ world to light through locations in San Francisco. Aside from being a Bay Area resident myself, I feel this is the perfect choice of setting, with its obsession town roots in such classics as “The Maltese Falcon” and “Vertigo.” To capture the old money world, as Huston and Hitchcock did in the City by the Bay, Fincher sets many of his scenes in restaurants with hardwood paneling and lots of red leather. The Bay Area’s Filoli Estate (largely known as the house in “Dynasty”) also appropriately stands in for Nicholas’ mansion. Perched on top of a hill, the mansion is the essence of old money and wealth, as Nicholas has to leave it to go down into the city; in many ways, the movie is about descent.
Not only are the location shots and direction top-notch, but much credit is also due to “The Game”‘s uniformly excellent ensemble. The cast is headed by Michael Douglas, who brings the same coldness and moral decrepitude to Nicholas that he did to his Oscar-winning Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” (1987). However, Douglas pulls off an even richer performance here in “The Game” than he did in 1987, as he turns the character into a vulnerable, dangerous man when his life spirals out of control. Matching Douglas is “The Game”‘s equally strong supporting work from actors Deborah Kara Unger, Armin Mueller-Stahl, James Rebhorn, and the always-great Sean Penn. According to author James Swallow in his book, “Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher,” Jodie Foster had been tapped to play Nicholas’ sister before the actress dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, and Penn stepped in for what was now the role of Nicholas’ brother. Fincher later cast Foster as the lead of his 2002 thriller, “Panic Room.” While Foster would have been interesting in “The Game,” it is almost impossible, with all great movies, to imagine any other actors in the roles.
Watching “The Game” again, it is incredible to see how well it holds up. In fact, its influence is clearly apparent in the recent crop of movies that similarly refuse to turn away from their ambitious ideas and keep you guessing until the end, from “Inception,” to “The Adjustment Bureau,” to “Source Code.” It makes me wonder whether “The Game” might have performed better now with this recent upsurge in thinking man’s thrillers than it did back in 1997. So, while Fincher may not have won his Oscar yet, the influence and great moviegoing experience that he left behind with “The Game” are undeniable.
Source citations :
James Swallow, ” Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher “, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd (p. 93-94)
Christina Syrett, ” Filoli on Film “, Filoli Official Site