Game, The

The Game, directed by David Fincher, may be one of those films about
which it is possible to say virtually nothing without giving away an essential
fact about it—a fact which a great many viewers would be very cross at me for
having revealed. It always seems to me a very shallow sort of enjoyment which
can be spoiled by such revelations. If you
can’t enjoy a movie more the
second time you see it, I don’t see
how it can be much good. For the same reason, if I find myself getting
distracted by mere curiosity as to what happens when I am reading a book
for the first time, I usually turn to the last page to find out. Yet I
acknowledge that there is sometimes a cheap pleasure to be derived from not
knowing, and many readers of these pages may find The Game to be a film
which offers such a pleasure.

All I can say is that there is some more or less exciting tension in the
uncertainty as to whether it will turn out to be the usual Hollywood paranoia
movie—like The End of Violence or Conspiracy Theory, both of
which are competing with it for viewers—or something rather different and
amusing—a kind of reverse or comic paranoia where the forces of darkness
are conspiring together to make the hero happy and give him a birthday party he
will not forget. This in itself is rather witty and original, though for my own
taste not enough to make me want to see the film a second time. Or even a first
time, if someone had explained to me the sort of suspense it generates. Whether
malignant or benign, the paranoia involved is too remote from reality for my

Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orten, a very rich and very heartless San
Francisco banker whose younger brother, Conrad
( “Connie” )
Van Orten (Sean Penn) gives him as a birthday present a gift certificate from
something called Consumer Recreational Services—a company which purports to
design elaborate games especially tailored to (rich) individuals. This game
never seems to have any object except to survive a series of sinister attacks by
unknown bad guys, or any players except Van Orten and what seems to be virtually
a world-wide conspiracy. It is not giving anything vital away to reveal that the
conspiracy, whether real or imagined, is designed by the filmmakers to humanize
the kind of guy who has his personal assistant thank his birthday well-wishers
for him.

Perhaps it is the predictability of the moral, whatever may be the means to
that end, or perhaps it is (as in the case of The End of Violence) the
tediousness of those ever-loving conspiracy scenarios. Perhaps it is the facile
flashbacks to Nicholas’s
father’s suicide (at exactly the age
he has now arrived at!) as an explanation of his emotional remoteness. Or maybe
it’s that Van Orten, even cleaned up
and at his best, simply isn’t a very
likable character. Whatever it is about this movie, I found it impossible to get
interested in it until the admittedly well-managed climactic scene where Van
Orten is standing on a high-rise roof-top with a revolver and a woman (Deborah
Kara Unger) who has lied to him before while a gang of gun-toting goons is
taking an acetylene torch to the security door he has locked behind him.

Apparently terrified, the woman tells him that all the guns except his are
fake, and that his brother and all his friends are waiting behind that door to
wish him a happy birthday. But what about the bullets they have just fired at
him, and the other people apparently killed by them? Fake, she says. The people
were shamming; the bullets were squibs. Movie bullets. It is all part of the
game. Please don’t shoot, she says.
It’s your brother behind that door,
with a glass of champagne. So what does the hero do? You will have to watch the
movie to find out. But in the end you may find that you
didn’t really care that much about

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