Wednesday, September 3, 2014

David Fincher Retrospective: The Game (1997)

The Game
Director:  David Fincher
Starring:  Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Anna Katarina
Rated: R

You're right, impossible.  You're having a conversation with your television.
               ~Daniel Schorr

Seven's success led to making The Game into a much bigger production than originally planned.  Fincher had lined up to do this film before he made Seven, but Brad Pitt's inclusion on Seven meant that film had to get done as soon as it could.  Even before Fincher helmed the film it had been kicking around since 1991.  It was originally set to be directed by Jonathan Mostow and starring Kyle MacLachlan and Bridget Fonda.  The script changed studio hands, however and these three parties no longer became involved with the film.  Even in Fincher's hands this film wasn't a sure thing.  Once Michael Douglas was convinced to do the film, only then was it hustled into production.
Last time I mentioned how I'd like to see Andrew Kevin Walker and David Fincher team up again.  They actually kind of did.  While he's not credited on the film, Andrew Kevin Walker was involved with many rewrites on the script.  I'm not sure whether these went on before Seven, during Seven or after Seven.  There is a claim that he and Cool World writer Larry Goss collaborated on a "heavy" rewrite of the film in 1996.  While I can't really see where things may be more Walker than Fincher here, I do think that the tone and nature of the city feels very much in line with Walker and how he approached the city depicted in his script for Seven.
The Game is definitely one of those high concept 90s thrillers that I can definitely see some of those folks who pride themselves on be "too smart for movies" disliking.  Stuff is always "bullshit" to them or whatnot and they are people that refuse to even get on ride and see what it does.  Too bad for them, they're missing out on a pretty clever concept.  This whole damn movie is one big red herring.  One after another leading to the end which lead to nothing as everything was put on and lead you astray.  Its a pretty great idea to put in motion, "What if we had a mystery film where the whole thing is a red herring".  This film has tons of fun with its viewer, especially those who think they can get ahead of the plot.  It makes you feel like you've got it, then makes you question yourself at every corner you think you're confident about what exactly is going on in the film.
Its on Michael Douglas to carry this film and he certainly does.  Douglas' brings with him a gravitas that keeps the viewer grounded in this story.  No matter how absurd events may get, Douglas plays them straight, keeps it real and has us believing in all this because he does.  There's a wide range of emotion on display from his character of Nicholas, but Douglas keeps it in check, never playing it too small or too big.  He's very precise in this film getting everything "just right".  Success of The Game very much lives or dies by this performance.  Its an interesting enough concept and film in its own right, but without Michael Douglas, the film may have not been as strong or could easily have been forgotten.  In many ways, too, this film was absolutely perfect for Michael Douglas.  It's almost as if the two, the film and the actor, needed one another in order to function best.
Fincher once again here crafts a dreary city that isn't very trustworthy.  This is a different feeling from Seven however, which took place in much more rough areas of town.  This one takes place in a much more wealthy area of town.  Everything setting in the film feels like there is something hiding behind the curtain that has a dirty little secret.  All the film's settings are very rustic in nature.  A lot of wood paneling, leather upholstery darker colors.  And most everything is cleanly and neatly organized as well.  For just being settings, it really does feel in every room that someone you cannot see is possibly there sitting and watching you.
A thriller in nature, The Game does provide plenty of creepiness and sort of scares throughout.  Most notably is the celebrated sequence when Nicholas comes home to find the large clown figure in his driveway positioned as if it committed suicide in the same fashion as his father.  Even knowing the outcome, its such a well structured and executed moment that it still sends chills every time I see it.  Another creepy moment comes later when the TV begins to talk to Nicholas informing him about "the game".  The distorted voice and choppy video imagine are kind of shiver inducing.  A lot more does happen (including that crazy blacklight sequence), but I think the setup of the film is a masterstroke that has you uneasy about everything that comes next, even if a lot of it is more action-oriented than scary.  Because we were set up with that type of horror vibe, its present in our conscience the rest of the way through.
I need to pose a question here, that hopefully a reader will be able to help me with.  How in the world does CRS pull off the attack on Christine's faux apartment.  You know, where Nicholas discovers its a rouse and breaks the smoke detector which is followed by a bunch of armed men in ski masks shooting the place up?  And they escape in car, but bullets are clearly connecting with things as glass is shattered, wood splinters and the whole gamut.  At the end of the movie they casually talk about "blanks and squibs", but I really dunno if I could buy into that during that chase scene.  On going back through the movie, its the only part of the film that doesn't seem to hold together for me.  In terms of working for that moment in the movie, yeah, but in terms of putting this thing altogether, it seems to real.  Is there a clear explanation for all this?
The Game is a pretty fun high concept thriller that I don't think I go back to enough.  Michael Douglas gives a tremendous performance and David Fincher continues to show he's not only got some style, but is quite an effective director in the thriller department.  I think its a slight step down from Seven, but still a very good mystery/thriller in its own right.  Whereas Seven made a statement, The Game decided to be one of the "best of the bunch" when it came to adult high concept thrillers in the 90s.  Its pretty interesting to see the difference in how successful and celebrated new directors were handled back in the day.  Instead of his reward being getting to make EightThe Game 2: Sudden Death Overtime or being told to make a "dark and gritty" reboot/remake Chinatown or the sequel to some franchise, Fincher got to keep playing in a genre sandbox and crafting stories he really wanted to tell and got to come into his fame as a director on his own terms.

PS) Criterion did a bang up job with the transfer on their Blu-ray.  Good golly it looks gorgeous!

NEXT TIME:  If I'm not supposed to talk about Fight Club, how the hell am I supposed to do my next piece?

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