I first watched 'The Game' in 1999, two years after its release. Being just 13 at the time, it wasn't something that would have grabbed my attention in the cinema at the time of its release. Yet stumbling across this film late one night on TV, I was transfixed; it was probably the film I attribute to changing the way I watch movies - not just as an observer, but as a deconstructed art form that fills me with great passion.
The story of 'The Game' seems unwittingly simple, as many of the best films are: Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an exceedingly wealthy man leading a solitary life until his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) buys him a gift certificate for a company called Consumer Recreation Services. After undergoing a rigorous physical and mental check, Nicky's game begins - at first, with frat boy pranks and cheap parlour tricks, but things quickly escalate into something much more dangerous, and CRS won't stop until they've taken everything from him - including his life.
It is, however, deceptively simple. This story ends up having so many twists and turns, it's impossible to ever know which way is truly up. The first few minutes of Nicky's game may have you puzzled, but by the end, you're second-guessing everything you see and hear. The final few scenes leave you holding your breath, as a man who's lost everything seeks revenge - but is this too all part of their plan? This brilliant script was assembled by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, and plays on paranoia and deception better than any film I know.
'THE GAME' TRAILER
You could write a book about Fincher's direction for 'The Game'. He does everything he can to amplify Nicky's loneliness, which in turn embellishes his arrogance. He defines the triller trend and chooses to prioritise wider shots over closer, saving tight close-ups for maximum impact. His use of space and framing emphasises these elements, while the story symbiotically relies on Nicky's seclusion to create distrust in those few people around him. The colour palette is so sombre, green and muted mustard hues portraying San Francisco with an unexpected harshness. There's an abundance of fluorescence, a stark reality reminding us how lifelike this scenario is.
Michael Douglas is an absolute thunderbolt in this film. Unafraid to tackle Nicky as the millionaire asshole, he plays the role with a quiet fury - that is, until the trouble really starts, and when that fury is unleashed, it's enough to make you flinch. It's also one of the great performances from Sean Penn, albeit with limited screen time, as he lies to his brother from the very first moment we see him. Yet it's Nicky's accomplice/tormentor Christine who surprises most. Portrayed by Deborah Kara Unger, this is probably her best-known role to date - which is an utter shame, given the impressive work she offers here. Cloaked in layers of deception, Christine is both leading Nicky to salvation and dragging him to hell, as he's forced to trust her and yet constantly be led astray by her deception.
This story ends up having so many twists and turns, it's impossible to ever know which way is truly up.
Then there's Howard Shore's score. Who would have imagined just a scattering of piano keys could cause such immense trauma? Its sparsity is infinitely affecting, never becoming prominent, but loitering like a subconscious thought, bubbling below the surface in a much more powerful way. Add to that 'White Rabbit' by Jefferson Airplane in one of the most iconic scenes within the film, and you have a soundtrack that's as aurally assaulting as its visuals.
'The Game' is probably my favourite Fincher film, with 'Gone Girl' offering it the closest competition. It completely changed the way that 13-year-old me viewed cinema, and left in me a passion for film that remains steadfast to this day. It also blew my mind creatively - I wanted to start a company like CRS, turning filmic events into a reality. On revisiting 'The Game' for its 20th anniversary, it left me feeling the same way that 13-year-old me first did: anxious, excited, mistrustful, exhilarated.