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The Game

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Sean Penn, Peter Donat, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Carroll Baker, Anna Katarina, Spike Jonze

Review by AlexI
4 stars out of 4

This film has the shortest trailer I've ever seen. For a brief moment a short message passed the screen: "..From the director of "Se7en" -- 'The Game'..". That's it. Indeed after creating "Se7en" in 1997, David Fincher doesn't need any introduction. He is universally known as the creator of one of the most horrifying and provocative thrillers since the dawn of moviemaking. If he decided to remake 'The Exorcist' as his next film, nobody would be surprised. The critics proclaimed that this "bright new star" would not create anything "as provoking" in many years. His next film came therefore as a big surprise, since it is actually better! This is a gripping, dizzying and thoroughly entertaining thriller which bears no resemblance whatsoever to 'Se7en', except in the obvious talent of the director. Come inside..Players needed..

His name here is Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), scion of the super-rich Van Ortons of San Francisco. Dark rooms, cold floors, and bland gray suits abound as Nicholas tends to his daily business of being filthy rich and alone. Wide screen views of his grand mansion or office focus on the glorious facade of his life, but soon we learn that there is more underneath this mask of perfection. Looking at him moving slowly within the many rooms in his mansion, makes us realize his loneliness and misery. Fincher skillfully crafts the image that Nicholas is a small cog in the grand scheme, passively observing as his life slowly drifts away without him, while his fortune builds effortlessly. Van Orton at first seems a victim of his own making, but from the opening home-movie sequence and occasional flashbacks, we get to know that his detachment from people is a defense developed as a young boy after he'd witnessed his father's suicide. Four decades later, he's a disturbed middle-age man himself, perhaps predisposed to suicide now that his age matches his father's last year. He is celebrating his 48 birthday as the last one -- completely alone, in his gigantic and equally lonely estate. A spark in his everyday existence is the appearance of his long lost brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Knowing about Nic's problems, Conrad offers him a special present -- a contract with Consumer Recreation Services. "They'll make your". Suspicious about the unknown company, Nic starts to ask around. He suddenly discovers that all his friends and associates are members of what appears to be a powerful underground company, with offices around the world, financed by men of wealth and power. In order to play, Nicholas endures extensive physical and mental tests, while also completing endless personality questionnaires. As an answer to Nic's question "What are you selling?", the manager replies "We provide..what's missing.." The 'game' is tailored to his particular needs, determined by a grueling battery of psychological tests. The "profound life experience" begins quietly but soon erupts in a confusing maze of devastating events. Terrorized by unknown forces and shadowy figures who seem intent on dismantling everything he has built, Van Orton has to win this deadly game or lose control of everything in his life. A paranoid nightmare, with enough violent coincidences and near-death experiences to make Kafka give up writing and move to Sunnybrook Farm.

Fincher tightens the screws psychologically as well as viscerally. As tautly as he can fashion a chase or an action sequence, he's even better at creating a pervasive atmosphere of impending doom, or the unsettling possibility that literally anything could happen next. The game overlaps and overtakes his life when his house is vandalized and his company's funds are tapped and drained. Even his friends seem connected to his downfall, and the waitress, who turns up again, has more than just drinks to spill on him. Technically, Fincher has captured the essence of the thriller through a great use of his camera. The initial expansive views of Nicholas in his home, seemingly possessing control of his life, begin to close in on him. As the pressure on Nicholas rises, we find him trapped in elevators, running down alleys and dank hallways, and locked in cars. Sweat and strain replace the calm and command that Nicholas once possessed. The paranoia runs deep and even Conrad does not appear trustworthy.

Fincher has wisely concentrated on Van Orton, making the audience share his paranoia, suspecting everyone - while fighting an invisible enemy. The supporting characters, including his own brother, appear as mysterious and faceless enemies within a destructive machinery. Douglas is the perfect choice for the cynic and cold business man. Nicholas is the product of the American system, a product of society. He is the face behind the American dream, living in its reality. Douglas is fabulous, both as the sophisticated 'king of the world' and as the confused and haunted victim. Sean Penn is likewise incredible, trying to be Nic's opposite, never becoming like his older brother. The other actors fill their small parts well, including the secretive waitress. What do you give the man that have everything? What's missing? And what's missing in the lives of business men and aristocrats is suspense, thrill, fear and excitement, but mostly love and feelings.

- Fincher's camera work, brilliant editing and dark score create an atmosphere, that would make Hichock look like a schoolboy. After making "Se7en" he left us all shocked, with this one he dazzled and amazed us, as he invited the audience into his intelligent maze of refreshing events, ideas and thoughts. He left me in the theatre -- shocked, amazed, enlightened, wondering: what's next?

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