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The Fincher Files: The Game (1997) Review

The Game (1997)

IMDB Link: The Game (1997)
Director: David Fincher
Writers: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Stars: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn

Synopsis: After a wealthy banker is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, his life is turned upside down when he becomes unable to distinguish between the game and reality. 

When looking at the many lists that rank Fincher’s filmography, particularly from the critics that I look up to and read regularly, I find that The Game is usually at the bottom of the list, and if not then near the bottom for sure. Having fallen in love with the other films I have seen of Fincher’s so far, I wondered where I would lie with this one. I have to say, even though it is not as strong as the other work I have seen so far, I still really enjoyed The Game and I will be impressed if this is my least favourite of his filmography as well.

Fincher knows how to open a film, and that is also the case here. Opening a film is not just about setting up the premise and overall plot of the film, no matter how important that is. It is also there to set the scene, get a sense of the tone and atmosphere that the film will build up, and is also focused on character development. Fincher is able to do all of that with The Game within the first ten-to-fifteen minutes, and it is incredibly effective for leading the rest of the film.

David Fincher is always able to get the best of out his actors, and this is no exception. With such a complex role, Michael Douglas does a fantastic job at portraying a wealthy banker that has his life changed over the two-hour runtime. All of the performances in the film, including Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger, are fantastic. These performances can only be so great because of the material they are given, and the character development that occurs throughout the film.

This is a story that is dynamic, with the concept being so strong that other films have followed the same route later on. In particular, it feels like both The Matrix and Inception had inspirations from this film, from the technological aspects to the narrative that jumps in and out of reality. Whilst I think both of those other films take the concept and have more fun with it, giving their stories more time to flesh out and feel more developed, I still give credit to the writers for coming up with it and making something that still feels fresh.

Out of the Fincher filmography that I have seen, this one does feel out of place in comparison to Se7en, Zodiac and The Social Network. Maybe it is because this one is set partially within fantasy, so the stakes are not as high within those sequences for me. The darkness within those other films come from a place of real fear, from true personal emotions and inner conflict. I do think this film stripped back those ideas, presenting them in a fantasy form that has less impact than watching a real crime case unfold, or watching the true life story of one of the wealthiest people on Earth.

With Se7en, I did not feel the 128-minute runtime whatsoever. The Game has the exact same runtime, but I did feel it this time in the middle of it. There was less going on throughout the film in terms of subplot, but that is because it takes a while to explain the concept of the main plot and how the gimmick works within it. This is necessary, and I feel on a re-watch the pacing may work better through the second act. The first third and final third are both solid though, and a lot of the character development and action take place there to set up the film and help it end on such a strong note – another thing that Fincher is fantastic at.

This may be the one film so far that definitely will benefit from a second watch. I still have to say though, this is another solid piece of work from Fincher. The Game is a story that has been told several other times, and yet is such a strong concept that the story can be told again. It may be on the bottom of a lot of people’s lists for Fincher’s filmography, but this is still another recommend for me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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