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Game, The (Blu-ray Review)

15 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language, and for some violence and sexuality.
Stars Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn.

One of the more novel screen variations to deal with tensions between the overachieving older brother and the, “hey, what’s happening?” type of younger, David Fincher’s third feature was his first to exhibit something akin to a sense of humor — which, let’s face it, will never be the filmmaker’s stock in trade (though The Social Network wasn’t exactly bereft of mirthful moments). Michael Douglas is the driven San Francisco financier who lives alone after his ex-wife bailed, and Sean Penn (small role) is the bro whose means of support isn’t particularly visible — casting that convinces and works.

If I were still the film programmer I was in one of my former lives, it would be fun to run this movie in a double bill with John Frankenheimer’s 1966 Seconds, another movie that was underappreciated at the time (though it much more so). Both deal with unwitting middle-aged males who get taken for a ride by life-transforming professional organizations for hire — and after this, I suppose one shouldn’t say a whole lot more about either film’s plot specifics due to the heavy spoiler potential from getting gabby. Regarding John Randolph’s intentions in the earlier film, his character is the instigator: he hears about a company that can alter one’s physical appearance and (with plastic surgery) launch people on fresh-start lives. In Douglas’s case, he is not the instigator — but is, instead, toying with his brother’s suggestion to investigate the life-enhancing possibilities offered by the murkily advertised Consumer Recreational Services (CRS), ultimately acquiescing to his regret.

I had totally forgotten that Criterion had released the film on laserdisc in 1997, and this release is mostly a carryover with a new director/cinematographer-supervised transfer that has a raw, dark and occasionally grainy Fincher “look” that auteur-oriented fans will appreciate. This is another movie that shows how pliable Douglas has been as an actor: He has the screen presence to pull off the authoritative big-bucks smoothie (all you have to do is think of the Wall Street duo), but he also convinces as a guy who (as here) just might end up in a hellhole bar in a hellhole physical/mental state with barely enough coinage in his pocket to beg anyone who’ll listen for a hitch home (which is hundreds of miles away). This is a movie where we see everything — including a lot of lies his character has been told — strictly through Douglas’s eyes, and he carries off the acting chore the way his old man used to do in picture after picture. Keen gene pool.

Because the John D. Brancato-Michael Ferris script depends so much on surprise and conspiracy, there’s probably no way The Game (outside of filmmaking dazzle) is ever going to have the kick on a subsequent viewing as it does on the first. But if, anything (and critic David Sterritt’s accompanying essay from the time almost anticipates this), the politico-economic dynamics of the past few years gets to this. Douglas’s character is of the 1%, and he isn’t the warmest individual toward the now famous 47 (note how he treats his subordinates). This is a movie about come-uppance — but with a wry, sinister wink that’s one of its strengths.

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