The Game (1997)

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The one Fincher flick everyone agrees is underrated, right? Every time I return to The Game I’m struck by the level of craft Fincher applies to an otherwise dopey idea. It’s not hard to imagine the various, sensational ways this material would go in lesser hands (this year’s Game Night is a solid variation though it never transcends genre as Fincher’s take occasionally does). It definitely wouldn’t be discussed and re-assessed the way this is, nor would it likely be in the Criterion collection.

Under Fincher’s meticulous eye, The Game becomes a sombre dark night of the soul, one man looking into the murky depths of his own mortality and vacuous lifestyle. It’s almost Cronenbergian in its steeliness; an autopsy on cold metal rather than the lurid, messy investigations of Se7en. Given that I often cite Cronenberg as my favourite filmmaker, it should go without saying that i’m completely down for this kind of character dissection. Douglas gives an all timer performance as Nick van Orten too, expertly modulating his restraint with escalating paranoia and eventual frenzy. Also, whatever happened to Deborah Kara Unger? She joined this hot off of Crash (Cronenberg again) and as far as inverted 90s femme fatales go, she’s certainly up there with the best of them.

Maybe everyone hesitates to equate this with Fincher’s more revered work because of its foundations in popcorn theatrics but it is thrilling to see the director revelling in the trickery of pure plot. You question everything you see which frees him up to be the film’s unreliable narrator – the director as prankster – allowing him to indulge in nightmare plotting, free of traditional logic. I especially love the moment when an ambulance car park suddenly becomes deserted and is cloaked in dark shadow thanks to a sudden blackout. What an image. The film is full of moments like that. A truly beautiful film to squint into and a nocturnal odyssey that ranks among the most underrated mainstream movies of the 90s.

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