What do you get a man who has everything? A very wealthy, focused, and intelligent man who’s already living his best life. Or is he? Featuring one hell of a story, The Game is a compelling nineties thriller doubling as a character study. It focuses on a man who seemingly forgot how to live completely devoting himself to his job. Something all of us can relate to and especially men approaching or already in a mid-life crisis. It’s funny to think that all of these plot points flew right by me when I was watching this movie for the first time back in the nineties.
Since I was a teenager back then, the mystery and tense atmosphere were the focus of my attention. Now I can see all the other things David Fincher was hinting at. Man, he really did destroy the nineties with movies like Alien 3, Se7en, and Fight Club, all instant classics. And while we’re mentioning other movies, I would be remiss not to talk about The Man Who Knew Too Little. Also released in 1997 it features almost exactly the same story but told from a comedic perspective. And just as Michael Douglas nailed his role in The Game so did Bill Murray in that movie.
Although John Frankenheimer’s 1966 masterpiece Seconds features a somewhat similar story as well. All three movies feature lead characters who find themselves playing this real-world game and making them realize what life is about. And all three movies give different answers, which I will leave for you to discover. Moving on, despite all of this philosophical stuff, you should know that The Game is one of those big and sprawling nineties thrillers. The production values are excellent along with stellar camerawork. It’s not like we were expecting anything less from such a good crew.
Meet Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy businessman in love with his job and his lifestyle. After his father’s suicide, he had to take care of his little brother Conrad and now Conrad decided to repay him with a special gift. It’s Nicholas’s 48th birthday and as a present Conrad gives him an invitation to a special game. Intrigued, Nicholas decides to check it out but soon finds out that he’s rejected. And exactly at that moment, his life starts spiraling out of his control.
Control is the key word here as it’s the thing that so many of us have trouble letting go of. And Michael Douglas was the poster boy for this concept in the nineties with his roles in this movie and cult classic Falling Down. Apart from him, we also have beautiful and mesmerizing Deborah Kara Unger whom you might remember from another nineties classic Crash. The Game is a movie that will totally engross you the first time you watch it. However, it doesn’t have a huge replay value.
You will have to wait at least ten years or more for it to regain some of its initial charms. It also might seem a bit contrived to some of the more jaded viewers. However, I think that no one can deny that it’s exciting, effective, and well-crafted. Despite the somewhat complex premise, it’s surprisingly easy to follow. Finally, I must add that it makes for a great study of what the people in the nineties found riveting.
Director: David Fincher
Writers: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Cast: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl