With a visual flair that is damn near unmatched by his contemporaries, director David Fincher scored a huge win with 2007’s sleeper hit The Game. This striking feature is a serious trip of the mind and cons its own audience with an interesting premise and a pacing that manages to top itself until its stumble in its final moments. Fincher’s dark puzzle is a twisted collection of the obscure and works as a movie within a movie and carries the Hitchcockian torch into the modern era.
The rules are simple. There are none. You don’t know when or even if The Game has begun. But it will change your life. For unfriendly businessman Nicholas Van Orten (Michael Douglas), who is at the crossroads in his life, The Game is presented as a gift from his estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn). He is told very little about how the game works but discovers just how serious it can be when not respected. Produced by a mysterious company that he considers nothing more than a joke, Orten discovers only confusion as his professional and personal life unravel themselves at a quick pace.
Written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, The Game moves quickly which is good. If the audience got a break from the tension and rawness of the action, their brains just might catch some of the fallacies being hurled at them. Leave it to Fincher to keep ratcheting up the tension until the breaking point. Long stretches of paranoia will have your teeth chattering. And the raw tension, which worked so well in Se7en, is again present here.
Douglas’s journey from a self-righteous arrogant to hapless prey is a remarkable performance that actually stirs up sympathy. Douglas has to sell his fear as the picture distorts perception and pushes its own limitations; he’s the lynchpin and has to be believable. Well, he is. It’s one of his best performances. Going up against an unknown corporation, it has to be great. His humanity is all the audience gets to cling to.
Penn, while getting second billing, is nothing but a very, very minor part of the film. Call it a cameo. While he does work to sell his estrangement from his brother, Penn’s performance is tasked to make the audience suspect him. It’s all distraction from the reality he is presenting in the subtext of his own paranoia.
While there are a few illogical flaws in the film, The Game is not completely defying reality. Several long stretches are perfectly believable and cleverly buries the ever thinning line between reality and fiction. It’s meta-entertainment for the elite, after all. Pay enough money and why couldn’t car crashes be orchestrated with high-octane stunts? Or have actors surround you instead of real people? And how would you know?
The Game, finally getting a much deserved blu-ray release courtesy of Criterion, is one of the most interesting Hollywood films made in the 1990s. And, with people still rabid for Fincher, it has a whole new audience just waiting to discover it. The Game will twist your perception of reality with its barely visible puppet strings and that, my friends, is never a bad thing. Question everything…except owning this blu-ray.
MPAA Rating: R for language, and for some violence and sexuality.
Runtime: 129 mins.
Director: David Fincher
Writer: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast: Michael Douglas; Sean Penn; Deborah Kara Unger; James Rebhorn; Anna Katarina; Carrol Baker
Genre: Thriller | Mystery
Tagline: There are no rules in The Game.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm not wearing underwear. Okay? There, I said it. Satisfied?"
Distributor: Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Blu-ray Distributor: Criterion
Release Date: September 12, 1997
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 21, 2012
Synopsis: The game in the movie can be viewed as a sort of alternate reality game with a large live action role-playing game component. Participants in real life versions of alternate reality games and live action role-playing games find the movie interesting and a source of inspiration for this reason.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 21, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: Locked to region A
The Game makes its domestic Blu-ray debut with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It’s a solid transfer with sharpness consistent but never cutting edge or up to modern releases. Flesh tones look very realistic if a trifle brown. Colors are bathed in either a blue tone or sickish green/yellow tint. This was a stylized choice from its director. Black levels are fine but not definite and, with a heavy amount of sheer nighttime scenes, deeper blacks should soak the image a bit more than they actually do. Criterion has provided two audio options. The first is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 rendition of the movie's theatrical mix which is of a nice quality. The second is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track specifically designed for home theater use and it raises the level of the immersive experience quite nicely.
- It’s a full house up in here. Sorta. Director David Fincher, screenwriters John Brancato & Michael Ferris, cinematographer Harris Savides, actor Michael Douglas, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug provide the film’s only commentary. If it sounds crowded, relax, it isn’t. Each person has been recorded separately and each are edited together to make the conversation flow from subject to subject.
Criterion has put together a nice collection of supplements including five separate behind the scenes featurettes, a look at the original ending of the movie, film to storyboard comparisons, and some bizarre footage of CRS recruitment video. While not as comprehensive as it could be, the featurettes covering the set are interesting in that they can be watched separately and cover some of the bigger stunts in the movie with splitscreen viewing and commentary options. Also included is a 16-page booklet with an essay covering the film and featuring some nice production shots. All in all, this is another great release from Criterion.
- Alternate Ending (1 min)
- Dog Chase (4 min)
- The Taxi (3 min)
- Christine's House (4 min)
- The Fall (1 min)
- Behind the Scenes:
- Dog Chase (4 min)
- The Taxi (12 min)
- Christine's House (5 min)
- The Fall (8 min)
- Location Footage (9 min)
- Psychological Test Film (1 min)
- Teaser and Trailer (with optional Fincher commentary)