The Game

The Game (1997)
Polygram Home Video
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn

David Fincher has already proven his ability to handle dark themes – his thriller "Seven" a few years ago, helped define a new wave of film noir. With his latest outing, "The Game", starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, Fincher heads down the same dark route, but this time with a completely different feel. Still threatening and fascinating, "The Game" is an intelligent thriller that toys with the viewer’s expectations, just as it toys with the characters in the story itself. Nothing is what it seems, and with its clever plot turns this film will surely keep you in its grip until the bitter end.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an emotionally distant, reclusive millionaire and successful business man. He’s also something of a control freak, needing to be on top of things at all times. His decisive leadership style partially inherited from his father has earned him a high-class lifestyle and a vast array of humble employees. Only one thing is missing from this well-ordered life excitement. One day shapes up like any other while his business takes its course. On his birthday, however, his brother (Sean Penn) appears after years away and presents the cold-hearted millionaire with an intriguing present.

It is a ticket to a highly personalized game, a game his brother claims to have been the most profoundly life-altering experience he has ever encountered in his existence. Not sure what to make of this invitation, Van Orton finally gives in to his curiosity and shows up at the company running this ominous game. They call themselves CRS, or Consumer Recreation Services. After an extensive psychological evaluation, which CRS claims they need to tailor the game to his personality, Van Orton signs up for to the game to find out more about it. Even then, however, no one is willing to really reveal what the game is about… but shortly after his initial visit to the company strange things begin to happen. People die in front of his eyes and he himself is hunted and shot at. At first he takes it as a joke, part of the game, but soon it turns out that this is deadly serious. Reality catches up with the man and when he tries to quit the game, he finds out the game and CRS are a complete hoax, a scam designed to wrest his power and wealth away from him. He has lost complete control of everything in his life. Someone is systematically destroying everything he has worked for, crushing everything he loves. Someone is after his life. Constantly observed, hunted, drugged, and abducted, Van Orton is losing his grip in the rush of devastating events and soon finds out that everything he once owned is gone. Someone has used the game to ruin him, strip him of all his wealth and throw him in a pool of his worst nightmares. And the game is still not over.

The most fascinating part of the film is that the viewer is constantly asking himself if what he observes is a game or reality. The film is a mind game in itself, helping us to understand the confusion Van Orton feels, making it an exhilarating experience to watch. We make our own explanations, and suddenly the plot takes a hard turn and every element we’ve established in our minds is shattered. Michael Douglas throws in one of the best performances in his career. His façade slowly breaks as Van Orton loses his control, revealing a man who finds himself trapped in an environment he cannot understand. This loss of control inevitably creates a basic loss of faith in himself, and he turns into a trapped and hunted animal, running more on instinct than an actual plan. Only later in the film does he pull himself together to rebuild the strength that made him the man he was… but before long, the hunters are back to break his newfound will and strength once again. Michael Douglas plays out all these transformations with an intensity and believability that is essential for the film’s credibility.

"The Game" is a stunning release from Polygram Home Video. The DVD contains both the <$PS,widescreen> and the <$PS,pan&scan> version of the film on the disc’s opposite sides. The film has a very dark, ominous atmosphere throughout, making it a stress test for the DVD compression, especially taking its considerable length of 128 minutes into consideration. Nevertheless, Polygram have managed to create a perfect DVD transfer with a sharp image that contains lots of detail. Shadow details are especially well maintained, which is extremely important for a film with an inauspicious signature like this, where much of the focal interest is hidden in dark areas of the image. Colors are solid, vivid, and despite the many dimly lit setting, absolutely natural. No signs of <$chroma,chroma noise> or color smearing are visible anywhere in the film and the compression is flawless.

The disc also contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack in both English and French. The sound stage is wide and very aggressive at times, building the right foundation for the suspenseful scenes on screen. Howard Shore has created an orchestral score for this film that is as gripping as the movie itself. Carefully building tension to the point of an explosive climax, this score is extremely well executed. Together with Harris Savides’ cinematography, it creates a threatening, socially hostile, yet completely organic and natural environment, never giving away clues, always providing the right note for the events.

This release is very impressive, both technically and content-wise. The <$THX,THX> certified disc features two <$5.1,5.1 channel> Dolby Digital soundtracks, a lengthy movie and a quality transfer to DVD without flaws, proving the Polygram are fully in charge of the medium once again. The film itself is riveting and absolutely captivating, never letting go of the grip it has on its viewers. This release speaks for itself and there is not much I can add. Get this disc and get ready for some of the most gripping and thrilling 2 hours you have had in a long while. Make sure you have everything in reach because you won’t want to take your eyes off the screen for even a brief moment. That’s how intense it is.