What do you get for the man who has everything, and finds pleasure in nothing?
Bitter, isolated investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is living a successful, privileged life – if you can call it living – and now he has reached his 48th birthday, the exact same age his father was, when he took his own life. Then Nicholas gets a surprise visit from his brother (Sean Penn), who shows up with a very special birthday gift. It’s an invitation to a game. A game that’ll change his life.
Suddenly Nicholas finds himself in the middle of a Kafkaesque nightmare. Strange things are happening all around him, everything seems to go wrong, and Nicholas’ life is fast spinning out of control. Has he lost his mind? Is something really bad happening to him? Or is it all just part of the game?
David Fincher must have felt like a certain portly, frozen peas selling director, when he set out to make a follow-up to Seven. How do you follow that film? You don’t even try, you go in a different direction, that’s how.
The Game opens with soft piano music playing, while we’re watching grainy home video footage of a family. Then we’re introduced to a steely Michael Douglas, without a hint of the sexual prowess he was so famous for. The world he moves in is cold, calm, and classy – far removed from the decaying cityscapes of Seven. And then the game starts. Patiently and carefully the story begins to accelerate. It’s the little things first: Nicholas spills something on his shirt, or his briefcase won’t open, but it doesn’t take more than this for his world to start unraveling. Soon all order and reason is pushed away in favor of chaos, and while Nicholas is breaking down right in front of us, our minds are working furiously to decode the plot and find the answer that will explain everything and restore order.
It’s a very difficult trick Fincher pulls off here. Most films that work towards a big reveal disappoint when the punchline comes and the curtain is pulled away. The Game doesn’t stumble. The last sequence of events is nothing short of masterful filmmaking, and even after multiple viewings I still hold my breath when the penny finally drops.
Audio & Video:
This Criterion release has been given a brand new transfer, which faithfully reproduces the movie’s dark and complicated color-palette, and it is quite stunning. The many dark scenes are handled especially well, and there’s a barely noticeable layer of grain, which seems to be exactly right. It’s hard to point out any flaws, but I did notice some banding on a single underwater scene, as well as a lack of contrast in a few process shots, but the latter is probably inherent in the original photography. The surround mix is equally effective, without being boastful. There’s a good overall atmosphere, and a good solid punch to the track, during the few loud, action-filled scenes.
This is not a film you can put on to impress people, it’s way too dark and moody for that, but real audio/visual geeks will appreciate how difficult it is to make a film like this look and sound the way it should.
The disc features a really insightful audio commentary, with Fincher, Douglas, and several other participants.
Also included is some behind the scenes footage, with optional commentary. This is a bit of a mush. One good, solid documentary would be preferable, I find this messing around with bits and pieces quite frustrating, although a lot can be learned if you take the time to watch it. Other tidbits include teaser and trailers, an alternate ending, the psychological test film and a booklet with an essay. Criterion special editions aren’t always as impressive as they initially look, when you get right down to it. The commentary is the real centerpiece here, the rest is just for the über-geeks.
At one point in the film Nicholas asks a previous participant about the nature of the game; the man doesn’t answer the question, but simply ponders how he wishes he could go back and get the whole experience again for the first time. I feel the same way about this movie.
HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Extra Features: B