The Game (1997)
The Game (1997)

Genre: Psychological Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 9 min.

Release Date: September 12th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Fincher Actors: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Carol Baker, Anna Katarina, Armin Mueller-Stahl




roller-coaster film that never slows down, “The Game” pummels viewers with nonstop intensity, continually remaining unpredictable and serving as the ultimate, multilayered cinematic escapism. Michael Douglas turns in a likeable performance as the ideal persona to have so many things go wrong for him – an above-average guy in terms of financial success, but an ordinary man when it comes to genuinely satisfying accomplishments. The dialogue and music craftily add to the suspense, with unnervingly high-pitched piano notes and deep string music remaining the greatest cues that the situation is worsening. And the setup and progression of events are so enthralling that even if the outcome is too wild to digest, it’s the chaotic journey that retains the real entertainment value.

In San Francisco, embittered Conrad (Sean Penn) requests lunch with his brother, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a millionaire investment banker who is usually too busy to do anything for his own birthday and who has everything in life he could possibly want except for fun and companionship. Conrad hasn’t ended up as successful, having spent most of his life messing with drugs and coping in rehab. For the wealthy man’s birthday, the two reunite briefly so that Conrad can give Nick a card with a gift: some form of escort entertainment service. Skeptical at first, Nick’s curiosity gets the better of him, and he visits the Consumer Recreation Services office.

CRS is the ultimate role-playing game, a great vacation that literally comes to the client. They provide whatever is lacking by creating a little adventure for the customer to escape to. After a couple of psychiatric questionnaires and a thorough physical exam, Nick is enrolled. But for what exactly, he’s still not entirely sure. He even finds a couple of newcomers at his regular club that have tried it, but he’s unable to interrogate them for much information. He’s especially shocked when CRS calls to inform him that his application has been rejected. But when he returns home to his immense mansion, he finds a human-sized clown sprawled out on the driveway. Has the game begun?

Nick sums it up best with his own quotes – “I don’t really understand it myself,” he admits to waitress Christine (Deborah Kara Unger), and, to his lawyer, “I’m being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children!” He proceeds to spend his time riding in an ambulance, strolling through dark parking lots, trapped in a malfunctioning elevator, getting chased by attack dogs, having his house vandalized, and discovering his credit cards stolen. He runs into odd characters and disturbing situations and at several points has to convince himself of his own sanity. His life is steadily going downhill and his grip on reality is rapidly deteriorating. And that’s before the truly insane stuff starts to happen – including attempted murder and all traces of CRS’ existence vanishing. One thing is for sure: he certainly won’t be getting a good night’s sleep.

The idea is fascinatingly unique, and the way each of the events continues to draw Nick into a more and more complex, morbid fantasy is endlessly amusing. His paranoia and uncertainty appropriately mandate his maneuvers, keeping the action moderately reasonable, if not entirely relatable. At no point does Nick know whether he’s involved in a series of unexplained coincidences or an elaborate game tailor-made for his personality. It could even be a giant conspiracy for some nefarious swindle of his hard-earned riches. And audiences get to solve the mystery right alongside the checkered hero. The plausibility of the whole thing is ludicrously farfetched, but that’s the point – and the fun.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10