David Fincher could probably be a contender to Stanley Kubrick’s throne as the director with the most number of takes per shot something which he did with Michael Douglas in the climatic of The Game where his character has been driven to the end of his wits. Released in 1997 it came two years after the tour de force that was the Brad Pitt – Morgan Freeman thriller Seven with THAT ending.
The Game was the brainchild of scriptwriter John Brancato who worked on a number of forgettable films from the early nineties none of which had set the world alight. Depressed and feeling that his career was over he came up with the idea of how someone might make over their life. He came up with the idea of a man given an unconventional birthday present, an invitation to play a mysterious “game”, the aim and rules of which are kept secret. As the game unfolds the man finds himself in a fight for his life unsure of where to turn and who to trust. As far as Brancato was concerned it was do or die deciding that if he couldn’t sell the script he’d leave his career and Hollywood behind.
His script that would go through much development and changes and it was director Jonathan Mostow who would go on to make the underrated Terminator 3 some years later that he was to direct. The central character in The Game was to be a 20-something male to be played by Kiefer Sutherland with a sister to be played by Jodie Foster and he pitched the idea to many studio execs who liked it but would not commit. Writing the script regardless it found its way to David Fincher’s company Propaganda who liked it and wanted some rewrites but Fincher had other projects and the eventually Brancato left and another writer rewrite it. Fincher hated it – so much so that he rehired Brancato again wanting the central character to be less likeable and the story which started off light got very dark by the end. Well, Fincher wanted it dark right from the go admitting that he didn’t do comedy well although ironically The Game can be seen as a very, VERY dark comedy as well as a thriller.
Fincher would cast Michael Douglas in the central role of Nicholas Van Orton, a divorced multi millionaire investment banker haunted by the suicide of his father. Here was an actor who had been at the top of his game for years and from 1987, a year when he won an Oscar and also appeared in Fatal Attraction a film that had been a box office sensation, he had maintained an eye for scripts that were both controversial yet had box office clout. This approach to his work had seen him appear in a stream of hits that included Basic Instinct, the excellent Falling Down (a script that studios liked but were too scared to make) and Disclosure. The Game by any stretch of the imagination was dark and typically of Fincher’s oeuvre and Douglas accepted the role to work with a director who was developing a reputation for exacting standards and was highly demanding of his crew and cast alike. Douglas is great in the role as a man seemingly in control but unwittingly embroiled in a nightmarish game of which he had no control that was in danger of destroying and possibly even killing him. The role of what originally was to be a sister played by Jodie Foster became an estranged brother played by Sean Penn who was still seen as a bad boy of Hollywood after his incendiary marriage to Madonna had fallen apart but had gone on to work with directors as varied as Oliver Stone and Brian DePalma although he is very much a supporting player in The Game. Deborah Kara Unger would be the female lead as a waitress embroiled in Douglas personal descent into Hell and we’re never sure if she can be trusted or not.
The Game is one of Fincher’s forgotten films sandwiched as it is between Seven and Fight Club, The Game arguably has a bit of a cop out ending and maybe too may contrived coincidences but nevertheless is a great watch and internationally audiences agreed . The Game ended up earning $109m worldwide.
The Game is out now on a limited edition two disc blu-ray / dvd with a number of decent extras. The first blu-ray disc has a 2K restoration of the film supervised by Fincher himself and his DoP Harris Savides. But the discs bonus features includes an intriguing video essay by Neil Young (not that one) as well as a commentary by critic Nick Pinkerton, Additionally there’s a promo interview with Douglas from the time of the film’s release, a trailer and image gallery as well as an interview with screenwriter John Brancato about the genesis of the film. Unusually there’s also a 4:3 version with an intro by Fincher about using the super 35mm shooting format. The second disc is the same as the 2006 disc release and has a Fincher Douglas and Brancato as well as key crew commentary which is well worth a listen. There’s also behind the scenes features and an alternate ending as well as a teaser trailer and CGI test footage. Added to this is a 200-page book exclusive to this edition includes a newly-commissioned full-length monograph by Bilge Ebiri, and selected archive materials, including an American Cinematographer article from 1997, a 2004 interview with Harris Savides by Alexander Ballinger, and the chapter on the film from Dark Eye: The Films of David Fincher by James Swallow.
ll in all this is a definite must have for Fincher fans who remains one of Hollywood’s most interesting directors working in Hollywood and we’ll soon see ‘Mank’ his first film since 2014’s Gone Girl.
Here’s The Game trailer…….