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There are no rules in The Game… which will make life very difficult for Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a successful San Francisco businessman who is always in control. Van Orton lives a wellordered, wealthy lifestyle until an unexpected birthday gift from his wayward brother Conrad (Sean Penn) threatens to destroy it all. Against his will, Nicholas has been enrolled in a game – a strange and “profound life experience” that begins quietly, but soon erupts into a domino effect of devastating events. Van Orton has to win this deadly, live-action game before it consumes his entire life.
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I missed this movie in the theaters in 1997 but saw it immediately upon its video release and it instantly became one of my favorite thrillers. Michael Douglas is spot-on as an emotionally detached, wealthy investment banker given an unusual birthday gift from his younger brother. I actually prefer this performance over the similar but more bombastic role of Gordon Gekko. As Nicholas Van Orton, Douglas gets to breathe a full range of emotion into his character and he really makes the most of it. Sean Penn is great as usual as Van Orton's unstable brother Connie and Deborah Kara Unger turns in a strong performance as a mystery woman who may or may not be on Van Orton's side.
Where to rank this among David Fincher's other great films is hard to say (it's my 2nd favorite) but I would say that it is the most overlooked. I don't know if that's because of the simplistic name of the film, how it was marketed or something else entirely but like The Shawshank Redemption, it seem seems to be one of those films that most people discovered far beyond its initial release. Having just watched it again, I was delighted to see that it had not aged a bit - something that cannot be said of other films of the 90s which are already showing their age.
As I said, the film has never looked better. It was never given very good treatment on video as it was (and that's being charitable) but this version hits it out of the park. The dark scenes that dominate the film are more clear than ever and Fincher's use of colored light has dramatic impact. Special features include 5 major set detail pieces exclusive to Criterion, trailer, teaser and audio commentary from all the principals throughout. It also includes an alternate ending that I'm thankful they didn't use. If you're a fan of this film, this Criterion release is essential.
Lastly, a little about the plot itself. There's not much that can be said without ruining the film's twists and turns but I cannot agree with the films few detractors who found it "too clever" or worse, those to whom it didn't make sense. Watch it again; it's pretty much all there within the scenes & the dialogue. Can you poke holes in parts of it? Of course you can, but I've yet to see a film where that is not the case - life itself has lapses of reason. What I like about The Game is that it does a more than adequate job of providing a tether to reality while it creates a mysterious world of its own - as long as you're willing to play along.
Michael Douglas and Sean Penn shine as brothers who get "trapped" within a game when what was a birthday gift turns into a nightmare. This is one of those movies that once you've seen it and know what's happening you want to see it again to see if there were signs, and then you want each of your friends to see it to see if they figure it out, and soon you're buying boxes of the movie to give as gifts to everyone you know. Maybe the game owns us all.
The Criterion Collection (the third format I've bought this in) is fantastic. The sound is impeccable, the extras are terrific for true fans and the commentary will help solve some of the mystery of "The Game".
Just wished Criterion would get the rights to release SEVEN on blu ray. Their Laserdisc was awesome back in the day and the Warner blu ray can't touch the brilliance that Criterion brought to that dark movie.
Criterion has always done the darker David Fincher films right.