Engaging Game tests Douglas
By Wendy Tsau and Neeta Das
The Game is a near-perfect culmination of Michael Douglas's on-screen work. It's like watching Wall Street's Gordon Gekko going through a Falling Down mid-life crisis, mixed with all of the action of Romancing the Stone. Oh, and there's also the psycho-sex intrigue of Basic Instinct.
In The Game, Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orten, an excessively rich investment banker who owns San Francisco and knows it. For his 48th birthday, brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a ticket to a game. No, not for the 49ers, but rather a customized, real-life game that very quickly turns into an inescapable, walking nightmare. Now that's some funky brotherly love.
The rules are like this: Van Orten pays a couple of million bucks; divulges all of his most personal info and neuroses; and then his friendly-neighbourhood game-planners traumatize you relentlessly. All of this is supposed to be a positive and cathartic experience. Wanna play?
Douglas, once again, melts into the sexy corporate-jerk role we have all grown to love. He is terse and abrasive. He is also not interested in having any redeeming qualities, yet there's something magical about the way he barks out NASDAQ numbers.
As the movie develops, there are plenty of opportunities to over-act and over-react; Douglas does neither. Despite his character's outrageous circumstances, Douglas remains focused and subdued.
Let us belabour this point with an example: Van Orten has just had a series of particularly harrowing days. Some young punk decides he's going to car-jack Van Orten by holding a crowbar to his neck, putting him over the edge (re: Falling Down). He oh-so-calmly reaches for his gun and gently rests it against the punk's temple. "I am feeling very fragile right now," says Nicholas. This dissuades the punk, who quickly runs away, leaving the audience very afraid.
Fresh from his critically-acclaimed role in She's So Lovely, Sean Penn displays his talents in the understated cameo role of Conrad Van Orten. Affectionately known as "Connie," this former drug-rehabber has turned his life around and is determined to do the same for his older bro.
Penn acts as the perfect foil for Douglas. All of his scenes are with Douglas, in which he unobtrusively clarifies Douglas' character for the audience. Penn avoided psychosis, alcoholism and belligerence throughout the entire movie. In addition, he shows stunning restraint; as he only screamed once.
Of course, Douglas and Penn owe a lot to the brilliant script, cinematography and direction. The script is tight, clever and thought-provoking. This, combined with haunting visual narration allows the movie to convey its central themes thoroughly and dynamically. By the end of the film, all the rules of this complicated game are clear.
Director David Fincher (remember the madness of Seven?) draws you into a continuous stream of heightened paranoia. It's only a movie, but in the meantime the viewer has become horribly afraid that what they're seeing on the screen is real. Fincher makes the audience question their perceptions of reality using, ironically, the notoriously-contrived medium of film.
All of this comes together in an exhaustingly exciting two hours to make for an incredible cinematic experience. Go and see this movie, because no one has seen anything like it before.