I had never seen “The Game” so I was happy to see this film pop up on one of my streaming services. Starring Michael Douglas at the height of his powers along with the always entertaining Sean Penn, the film had star power along with a very intriguing story.
Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a successful and wealthy banker who seems to have everything. He looks like Gordon Gekko but Douglas plays him without the cockiness and bluster. He’s a straight-laced guy living a very comfortable life. His brother Conrad (Penn) is the opposite as we learn quickly when Nicholas meets Conrad for lunch. Their conversation sets up the contrast between the characters, and then Conrad offers up an odd birthday gift. He wants Nicholas to take part in a personalized, real-life game. Nicholas is skeptical but then reluctantly agrees to accept after looking into it. And then things spin out of control.
The story has so many twists and turns that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The audience is often left guessing as to whether Nicholas is truly experiencing a game or if it’s all real as his life spins out of control. The end of the film is over-the-top, with a final plot twist that will surprise most viewers.
Yet the movie is flawed. It’s difficult to explain this in detail without giving away the ending, but too many of the details don’t add up. It’s too hard to believe the story. We’re used to suspending disbelief in fantasy films like superhero movies or ghost stories, but the setup here is grounded in the real world.
Still, the movie is brilliantly shot and paced. I didn’t realize this was a David Fincher film until the closing credits. It makes sense, as the entire feel of the film fits his style. But Fincher admits he probably should not have directed this film due to problems with the story, particularly in the third act. His wife told him not to take on the project but he didn’t listen. The frenetic ending of the film delivers plenty of entertaining twists and action, but you’re left asking yourself how this is all possible.
While the film is far from perfect, the performances from the cast make up for the problems with the story. Douglas is brilliant as you would expect. He’s able to handle such a wide range of emotions without ever overacting. Events if the events around him seem far-fetched, his reactions always come across as authentic. Penn dials it up and delivers a manic performance that fits the character. He’s perfect for this role, even if this is far from the best performance in the film. Deborah Kara Unger is fantastic as Nicholas’ love interest. It’s surprising that her career fizzled after this film. James Rebhorn delivers his usual great performance as he convinces Nicholas to give this crazy idea a try.
Do I recommend this movie? Yes. It’s a fun ride from a brilliant director featuring great performances from a stellar cast. But the film has issues that will leave some viewers less than satisfied. But you’ll probably enjoy it if you can get past some of the unbelievable sequences and treat this as a suspenseful popcorn movie.