The Game

1997, R, 128 min. Directed by David Fincher. Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 12, 1997

Shadows, fluorescent lighting, and David Fincher. The unholy trio. Fincher's first outing since the wildly popular Seven has echoes of everything from the cult TV show The Prisoner to various nods to Hitchcock, though it's certainly Fincher's game all the way. It also has wild plot holes and requires an almost inhuman suspension of disbelief, but it's still a fun ride up to a point. Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy and ruthless San Francisco investment banker who is given a mysterious birthday gift by his black sheep brother Conrad (Penn). The gift in question is a ticket to a game created by a highbrow executive entertainment firm called Consumer Recreation Services. And the game in question? Well, no one seems to know. According to CRS pitchman Feingold (Rebhorn), Van Orton will not know when or where the game begins, or even what the objective is, or even if there is an objective. After undergoing rigorous psychiatric and physical testing, Van Orton nonetheless agrees, and the game, so to speak, is afoot. Van Orton soon finds his privacy intruded upon, his house broken into, his life repeatedly threatened, and his world literally turned upside down, and the hell of it all is that it looks as though he's being taken for a very dangerous ride. Is the game some high-priced scam to separate him from his money? Is his brother in on it? Are people actually being killed all around him? Are his life and mental well-being suddenly up for grabs to the highest bidder? Van Orton hasn't a clue, and neither does the audience. Fincher wisely keeps everyone and everything in the dark about what the real machinations here are, and though that may annoy some of the more literal-minded members of the viewing public, it does make for a terrific emotional roller coaster. The Game gives Douglas a much-needed venue to run the gamut of his acting abilities, everything from the vicious Wall Street-smarts of Gordon Gekko to the frantic panic of Basic Instinct is rehashed, and Douglas is clearly having a ball. Likewise his supporting cast, including Crash's Unger as a mysterious blond (everyone in The Game is mysterious, come to think of it), and Donat as Van Orton's lawyer. It's all a bit much after a while, and how much you enjoy The Game will depend on how much you enjoy shoddy, creaking carnival rides and Halloween haunted houses. There's no explanation -- certainly not a very satisfying one, at any rate -- given for the rules, or non-rules, of the game, and I have the feeling that a slightly more upbeat ending has been tacked on at short notice, but the effortless ease with which Fincher creates palpable disquiet and overwhelming anxiety is genuinely fun to watch. It's not for everyone and it doesn't make much sense when you stop to think about it, but it's still a lot more fun than Parcheesi.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More David Fincher Films
Gone Girl
When a lady vanishes, David Fincher holds the moral compass.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 3, 2014

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara completely nails the role of Lisbeth Salander, and director David Fincher is no slouch either in this perhaps unnecessary remake of the Swedish thriller.

Marc Savlov, Dec. 23, 2011

More by Marc Savlov
Mangled Italian creature feature should be even shorter

Sept. 25, 2020

I’ve Got Issues
Mournful, doleful, hopeful Austin comedy finds empathy in the edges

Sept. 18, 2020


The Game, David Fincher, Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle