Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fincher: This Ain't No Game

I like puzzles. I also like games. With the advent of massively multi-player online role-playing games, some people have immersed their entire lives into video games. Putting aside their physical ability to even walk up a flight of stairs after staring at a computer screen full of Warlocks, Wizards, and Goblins, I somehow think that these people would likely not find being part of a real-world version of “The Game” very fun. But I'd certainly enjoy watching it.

The Game is a suspense thriller directed by David Fincher. I figure that it was only suitable to revisit this film since Fincher's most recent film, The Social Network, has just been nominated for a whole slew of awards this season. The movie stars Michael Douglas who plays Nicholas Van Orton, an extremely rich but lonely San Francisco banker. His life takes a wild turn when his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a gift - from a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). This gift turns out to be more than Nicholas bargained for.

Up until that point his routine is mundane at best. He works all day amassing huge amounts of wealth and then returns home to his large and quiet mansion, eats dinner, watches the evening news, and goes to sleep only to repeat the same routine all over again the following day. His life is so empty that Nicolas spends his birthday alone in his house, his only real present is a cupcake left by his housekeeper along with dinner. All of that has changed for Nicolas. Consumer Recreation Services seems more intent on killing him than showing him a good time.  What comes next is a game of cat and mouse. Nicholas not only has to fear for his life, but his sanity as well.

The Game is an atmospheric and masterfully shot film. On top of all that, the film has a long history. The films inception began in 1991. The film's original director was Jonathan Mostow (U-571 and Terminator 3) who actually spent years developing the project. He left the project to direct another film, and those duties eventually fell to David Fincher. Kyle MacLachlan was originally attached to play the Nicholas Van Orton role. Then, Fincher planned to film this movie and then film Seven, but when Brad Pitt was available to do Seven, The Game was put on hold.

One thing I found interesting while taking a look at the behind the scenes of this film was that Fincher said that the film is about "loss of control. The purpose of The Game is to take your greatest fear, put it this close to your face and say 'There, you're still alive. It's all right.'" I suppose the Saw franchise took that to the next logical conclusion, though they corrupted the meaning in convoluted reasoning and eventually took the concept so far off the map it was rendered nothing but "torture porn."

The Game is enjoyable, the premise is pretty frightening, and believable so long as you don't look too closely at some of the extraordinary steps that CRS and others are able to take in such a short window of time. The situations that Nicholas gets put in seem too perfect in retrospect, and the kinds of contingency plans that would need to be thought up of would be shocking.  There are moments where the company's ability to whitewash all clues from a crime scene seem fantastical. Then again, this film came out in 1997. In today's world, a few simple internet searches would likely uncover the truth unless CRS would be able to hire the same people who can cover the online tracks of those bogus magazine circulation companies that still do all those phony door-to-door sales.

With all that said, I don't think that the film insults the audiences' intelligence as many films that pull a major twist at the end do these days. It really keeps the audience engaged, thinking, and guessing as to what will happen next. All in all it's a fun ride, one I like to revisit often, a testament to how well crafted this game really was.

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