The Game * * * 1/2

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Director: David Fincher.
Screenplay: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Anna Katarina, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Kehoe, Tommy Flanagan, Spike Jonze.

Following up the magnificent, visceral serial killer thriller “Se7en” was always going to be a hard task for director David Fincher but with this, he opts for an equally dark, yet more playful, mind-fuck thriller.

Egotistical, successful businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) gets an unusual birthday present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) – a gift certificate for a sophisticated recreational company that stages a ‘game,’ the nature of which is never revealed. Before long, Nicholas’ entire existence is torn apart as he desperately clings to his life and his sanity.

First off, this film has got plot holes aplenty but if you give yourself over to it and suspend your disbelief, this is a very enjoyable edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller. Fincher knows what he doing and wrings out the suspense at every turn. The twists and turns of the plot are so relentless that it’s easy to identify with the desperation of Douglas’ character.
Admittedly, I’m not his biggest fan but Douglas is absolutely superb in this. He captures the arrogance and egotistical nature he portrayed before, from his Oscar winning signature role ‘Gordon Gekko’ in “Wall Street” and couples it with a fragile vulnerability. The unravelling of his character is masterful and he delivers a very entertaining performance that just about manages to take your mind of the sheer implausability of the story. Like “Se7en”, Fincher’s ability to craft an environment that’s dark and depressing is once again captured, helped by subtly excellent cinematographer Harris Savides. There is a gloomy air of dread throughout and nothing ever seems natural, adding to the sense of unease as ‘the game’ unfolds. By the time the end credits roll and the final revelation is delivered, you’ll feel as exhausted as Douglas looks.

It doesn’t take much to realise the whole thing simply doesn’t hold up but if looked at as entertainment, then it’s a winner. Farfetched and unlikely, but highly imaginative.

Mark Walker

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