Rooting for the rich is a tricky ask, and though there has been a history of wealthy and successful protagonists during times of excess, the attainment of wealth is, for many, an unachievable dream which makes the super-rich difficult to relate to. In that respect, centring a film around a multi-millionaire—or, more likely, billionaire—and making that character one the audience can root for is a tall order for any director. Fortunately, The Game is helmed by a director of great skill.
David Fincher is a bonafide master of suspense and foreboding, yet maintains a subtlety that many of his contemporaries lack. He is not interested in big showy acts or high speed action sequences, but equally he refrains from the obvious looming of external terror. Instead, Fincher’s films feature subtextual horror, in that they are woven with existential dread that is part of the very fabric of the narrative. As such, he can make a film about a disgustingly rich man and still have us care, as we can all relate to the concept of questioning oneself and one’s own reality.
The drama hinges on the right actor being cast as the wealthy man at the heart of the story, and there are very few actors who can appear as both obscenely rich and indisputably human. One actor, who has played several roles where he has a larger bank balance than anyone else, is Michael Douglas. The choice of casting Douglas is inspired, and his performance is incredible. In opposition to his best-known rich-man role of Gordon Gekko—a self-made vigilante of money akin to a highwayman in Wall Street—he instead plays a man made by his father, an heir to his father’s fortune, and a man who lives now in the shadow his father cast over his own young life. The film is not about the vastness of his resources, but it is a coming-of-age tale where the protagonist is almost fifty instead of fifteen.
Douglas is about to have a birthday, and so his wayward younger brother—played with outlandish charm by Sean Penn—buys him an experience with a strange and suspicious company which deliver real-life games. Douglas is unsure of taking up this offer, but unbeknownst to him the game has already begun. It is a meta-fiction within the fiction, as Douglas knowns he is in a game yet still he gets played. The twists that roll out are subtle, as the action and relentless pace are, yet they are still strong.
The script is smart and says a lot without saying much, with very little exposition and a lot of discovery. This is not a film that assumes you are an idiot. The supporting cast are all pitch-perfect, particularly Deborah Kara Unger and James Rebhorn. Unger is the lynchpin upon which the narrative rests, yet her role is unclear for a large part of the film. She plays everything straight, which is exactly how it should have been done, and this is by far her breakout performance.
I really like The Game. It is not Fincher’s best film, in that he has made other films which are better, but it is not a bad film at all, and I don’t think it could have been made better than it was. It is both gripping and unsettling, and testament to the talented cast, writers, and crew. The Game is a wild ride, and well worth the ticket price.