Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Netflix Experiment #4: The Game

by Ryland Walker Knight

The Game uses every technique available to dazzle and thrill and prickle the audience and were it not for the screenplay the film might be worth more than a passing fancy. As is, David Fincher's third film bears all his worst and his best strains, as ever. I don't know of a filmmaker I've wanted to like more whose films, for the most part, over time, depreciate and feel incomplete. I mean, I own Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room -- but I don't really like myself for it, no matter how good Zodiac is (or is not). (I mean, I like Zodiac fine, it is easily his "best" film, but it plays lopsided and incomplete.) The Game is not a novel story, but I think Fincher knows this, so the film glides along, happy to be a B picture dressed up in A+ sheen. Perhaps that was what made Panic Room such a success (still my "favorite" of his films): it was a taut genre picture without pretension. This picture is all ostentation. Michael Douglas doesn't simply hit bottom to learn his moral lesson -- first he is bankrupted, then he is buried alive and when even that fails he kills himself! However, Douglas is the perfect actor for this kind of put-upon-rich-asshole role, partly because he comes across as a rich asshole off the silver screen. But the bigger reason is he's an underrated actor, like his dad.* He can sell that scene in the truck stand diner where all he can offer for a ride to San Francisco, from the California-Mexico border, is $17 and change. And he can sell the climax, on the rooftop, where he shoots his brother and decides to jump over the edge, drained and destitute. That is, he helps make the movie better, despite the obvious dialogue and all-too-flashy direction. Whatever structural inconsistencies Fincher films exhibit, they all have excellent acting, along with their extraordinary visual sense. Each of his films has a pitch-perfect central performance. Which makes me think he's probably a cool dude. Or, his meticulous visual nature extends to his interactions with actors. Or, just maybe, he's smarter than his movies let on. If anything The Game is worth watching for those two aspects, and Sean Penn's kinetic pop-and-fizz cameos, and Deborah Kara Unger's red bra.

01997: 128 minutes: dir. David Fincher: written by John D Brancato & Michael Ferris

[*: Are they? Or am I making that up? I guess the son won an Oscar and the father was nominated a few times. Nevermind.]

[Editorial note: I don't want this to simply be snark-or-delight but on the day when Antonioni died, which happened to be the day after the day Bergman died, I'm probably holding whatever film I watch, however diversionary and entertaining it may be, to a pretty high standard it will undoubtedly fail to meet. I promise more generosity next time, even if I think the movie is silly and poorly paced and not as good as it should be.]

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