What do you get the man who has everything?
Amazing how a thought so random and rampant can inspire something so bleak and myopic like David Fincher’s The Game. This movie was delivered to us in 1997 and it’s still one of Michael Douglas’ best roles as a billionaire tycoon so stuck in his own world that he doesn’t take the time to look at the people he runs over.
He is the man who has everything–a CEO of his own company working in a building bearing his name, a housekeeper who is more of a dear friend but remains in his tapestry of condescension, an ex-wife who whisper speaks probably because she is so afraid he’ll blow a gasket, and a laissez-faire brother (played so well by Sean Penn) who is probably the only one alive who understands Mr. Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas).
See what I mean here…
Before the Blair Witch and Paranormal activity haunted people, there was The Game. This is an entertaining cerebral hemorrhage based on self-reliance, chaos theory, and what happens if you are really confronted to looking at all your personal baggage.
Shall We Play a Game?
What’s great about the trailer is you see gun play, a touch of violence, the ghost of a father (who committed suicide…no spoiler, it is necessary for the plot), male screaming, and a few scenes that appear to have nothing to do with one another. For instance, wait until you see what that friggin’ clown does. Unlike many movies today in the mainstream circuit, this movie leaves you guessing the moment you press play.
It all starts with the cerebral capacity of Fincher, who came back to theaters with this following the cult classic and mindbending acid trip Se7en. And if you have a difficult time taking Michael Douglas seriously here, watch the great Oliver Stone classic Wall Street and then imagine a douchier, more stone-faced and heartless Gordon Gekko.
That’s Nicholas Van Orton mostly through this movie. Douglas is just blessed to have those D-bag qualities I suppose. Everyone sees the machine that Van Orton is, except his brother Conrad (known as “Connie”) who surprises Nicholas for his big ’48’ with an invitation to this game that will “make [his] life fun.”
This would qualify as a serious understatement as this movie takes us all on a ride around dark corners, unforeseen dips in the road, and one of those “Wait, what” endings that leaves you shouting at the screen.
It all begins at an corporate upstart called Consumer Recreation Services, or CRS as you will come to know it throughout the entire “game.” The moment he finally acquiesces and visits the office to register for this game, everything falls apart. Yes, everything.
I mean, look at Nicholas’ face in that picture. Does he look like this game is full of laughs? What made his face get to that point is a fabulous adventure and one few have taken but should.
Skin in the Game
Nicholas Van Orton is a cold, visceral man who calculates every move he makes. The one thing that keeps him in control is his abuse of it. The world comes to him, so when a friendly game of hide and seek or tag and you’re dead enters his life, pandemonium ensues.
He learns to trust no one, which comes easy to him. However, he also learns he needs to confide in someone, which is almost impossible. That is part of this journey we all get to see in an adrenaline-flooding and heart-racing voyage. Why is he in this game? Is someone going to steal all his money? Is someone taking out some sort of revenge? Can he not escape the ghost of his father (who obviously loved him like a child looks forward to a plate of brussel sprouts and squash)?
Van Orton is controlled by forces beyond his comprehension, manipulated by events that come out of thin air. And the entire time, while he never says it, you can see him thinking, “I’m Nicholas Van effin’ Orton. This kind of stuff never happens to me.”
What would happen if you were placed in a world where you were a stranger and controlled absolutely nothing? Would it feel like a game or survival? That’s the balance this movie strikes magnificently. Douglas is perfect at playing this kind of this contempt and bitter old man of stroke and significance. You never see him break until it comes at the most perfect time.
The adventures become more and more sinister. The results leave in him in direr and direr straits. And then there’s that ending. It’s not what happens, but how.
The Game received a favorable 73% by critics on Rotten Tomatoes and mediocre 61% on Metacritic. And while people can have their opinions, this is a truly underappreciated film. In a game where there are no rules and in a movie where it’s all about the script and the plot, that’s not a surprise. But it all begins with a story and a movie as good–and underrated–as this is the stark reminder we can all use about the importance of a tale, a temptation, and that perfect little twist.
If you have a chance, get your pieces and play The Game. You’ll thank me later.