Criterion // 1997 // 129 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 5th, 2012
Whenever a David Fincher films arrives, you can bet that the famed director will have something uniquely different up his sleeve. From The Social Network to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to even the much maligned Alien3, Fincher's films are always a fascinating movie going experience. The Michael Douglas vehicle The Game is no exception; coming on the heels of Fincher's hit Se7en, The Game is a labyrinthine puzzle box of a movie that will keep viewers guessing until the final reel. Criterion has finally offered up this psychological thriller on Blu-ray in their usual stellar package.
Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas, The War of the Roses) is a successful broker who is detached from everything in his life: his estranged ex-wife, his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn, Milk), and even his own emotions, due to his father's suicide when he turned 48 years old. Now at the same age as when his father died and living an isolated existence in an enormous mansion, Nicholas floats through a life of meaningless wealth. All of that changes when his wildcard brother Conrad gives Nicholas a birthday gift for Consumer Recreation Services (CRS), a company that (in Conrad's own words) "makes your life fun." Shrouded in secrecy, CRS offers a game that will change your life...if you can survive it.
The Game is one of my favorite and most memorable movie experiences ever. Ever. I can still remember the exact theater I saw it in (Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, IL) and how I felt watching it. It's rare that I make it through an entire movie without looking at my watch; it's even rarer when a movie makes me lean against the seat in front of me, riveted to the screen until the credits begin to roll. The Game is that kind of movie. It's a pure joy watching it for the first time, with little to no knowledge about the plot or its characters.
Interestingly, before sitting down to watch it for review, I had only seen The Game once. The reason? I truly believe The Game's power comes from that first initial viewing, when the person watching it has no idea what is about to happen. I would consider The Game to be a great movie, but not a movie with great replay value; although it's certainly worth watching more than once, you won't have those same awe inspiring moments the second or third time around.
I am going to be intentionally vague about the details of The Game; I feel it does first time viewers a great disservice to discuss the film in much detail. I can guarantee you that no matter what you think is going on during The Game, there's a good chance you are wrong. Then suddenly, there's a good chance you're right. Then the movie screws with your head, and you start back at the beginning where you have no idea where The Game is going. When I first saw The Game, my jaw dropped when the final cliffhanger came to fruition. Fincher's direction is impeccable with a mounting sense of dread penetrating every corner of the screen. Is The Game a horror movie? A psychological thriller? A drama? The fun is in the guessing just what it's going to be and where it's going.
The actors are all fantastic in their roles without a weak link in the chain. There has never been an actor better suited at playing wealthy corporate sleaze than Michael Douglas. His Nicholas Van Orton starts off as a man you dislike immensely, then he turns into...well, let's just say 'something else.' Sean Penn's role as Nicholas's brother Conrad is more or less a glorified cameo; the actors shows up in roughly three key scenes, but when he's around Penn absolutely dominates that screen and ends up being a practical lynchpin for the plot and story. Deborah Kara Unger (Payback) is the character who spends the most time with Nicholas, and her smoky eyes always appear to be hiding something. To use a clichéd statement, in The Game nobody is exactly what they seem. Special mention also goes to cinematographer Harris Savides (who also worked on Fincher's Zodiac, whose camera work seemingly tucks clues and mysteries into every corner of the frame.
That's all I have to say about The Game, or at least all I want to say for fear of ruining one of my favorite movie experiences for someone else. If you haven't seen The Game yet, don't go online and read all the reviews and synopsizes -- this is a film that benefits from the viewer coming in fresh and unaware. You'll thank me later for telling you to go in on blind faith.
The Game is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Criterion has done a great job with this transfer; The Game was released years ago on standard DVD in a very lackluster non-anamorphic widescreen transfer that leaved much to be desired. The picture quality by comparison is stunning; since this is a David Fincher film, much of the movie takes place in darkness and shadows. The black levels are stable and superior while the color schemes have a deep clarity and richness that truly bring the movie to life. Fans will be thrilled with the work Criterion put into this new Blu-ray version of the film.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. The audio mix is aggressive when needed and subtle when required; it's perfectly balanced and features clear, distinguishable dialogue, music, and effects. The biggest boost is composer Howard Shore's (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Silence of the Lambs) evocative film score, which is prominently featured throughout the film.
The extra features on this Criterion disc include a commentary track by director David Fincher, actor Michael Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Micheal Ferris, director of photography Harris Savides, production designer Jeffrey Becroft, and effects supervisor Kevin Haug, a theatrical trailer for the film (with commentary by Fincher), a theatrical teaser trailer and "render test" trailer (with commentary by digital animation supervisor Richard Baily), a two minute alternate ending for the film, four film-to-storyboard comparisons, some very short behind-the-scenes featurettes ("Dog Chase", "The Taxi", "Christine's House", "The Fall", "Location Footage"), the short film "Psychological Test" that is used on Michael Douglas in the final film, and an illustrated booklet wit an essay by critic David Sterritt.
Those walking into this for the first time will discover a powerful, exhilarating, emotionally resonant, and thoroughly exhausting experience. The Game is a great movie, period.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Short Film