|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 27 August 2002|
Like 'The Usual Suspects,' The Game is a movie in which the finale puts everything into perspective. The difference her is that, while the script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris is extremely clever, keeping us speculating until the last few minutes, 'The Game' does not make you want to watch it all over again to see how they did it.
Because so much of the film relies on surprise, there's not a lot that can be said about the set-up with out giving away what's ultimately going on. Michael Douglas plays an extremely wealthy, extremely grim businessman named Nicholas Van Orton who gets an odd 48th birthday present from his wild younger brother (Sean Penn). The gift is a chance to play a game set up by something called Consumer Recreation Services, an outfit that maddeningly won't offer any explanations about the nature of its services.
Nicholas soon finds himself under surveillance and beset by strange, frightening incidents. He's increasingly unsure of which people around him-associates, waitresses, winos collapsing in the street-are what they appear to be and which ones are in league with this Game which may result in his death.
Director David Fincher, who previously helmed 'Seven' and 'Alien ,' knows how to create a dark atmosphere of dread, although he doesn't demonstrate an improved ability to get us to care about the characters. Douglas does his patented cold s.o.b. routine, which works while we're chuckling over a few of his early, minor humiliations, but becomes a problem once we're meant to be rooting for him to plumb the mystery and save himself.
Technically, though, 'The Game' has many cool touches. Chapter 1 has a good time playing with subtle special effects to amusingly reproduce the look of scratchy, jumpy old home movies and the rich, creepy, dark-hued production design throughout suggest the possibility of chaos around each corner. Fincher shoots potentially tempting opulence in ways calculated to make us resent and fear it rather than admire it. He also knows how to play with sound mixing to elicit maximum menace, coming up with a little twitchy symphony of footsteps, jangling keys, coughing and apprehensive scoring in Chapter 6. In Chapter 9, he goes for broke in a psychedelic vandalism sequence that takes color contrast and audio volume to levels suitable for equipment demonstration.
The filmmakers keep 'The Game' moving swiftly, letting us wonder what's happening without giving us time to ask too many questions. This is wise, as gaping plot holes become evident once we learn the true nature of the hero's predicament. The finale is emphatically not a cheat, but 'The Game' leaves us feeling more that we've been played with than entertained.