David Fincher dominates! The director of that luscious downer Alien 3 and the devastating fright-hit Seven scores again with The Game, starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.
Douglas (the cop or cheating husband or stockbroker you love to despise) is perfect as Nicholas Van Orton, a too-powerful-for-his-own-good investment banker. Everything works for him in spades; everybody kisses his ass. But something very important is missing. If life is feelings and not piles o' stuff, then this guy needs to get one. His brother Conrad (Penn), on the other hand, seems to have a direct hookup to existence. He's been strung out, has surfed through shit, is cool and seems to think that rules are for someone else.
So far so familiar. But what's new about this story is in its telling. Tension hasn't been this much fun since Hitchcock. The Game works on so many levels of deception that you can't stop feeling seduced and abandoned, like a dummy at a shell game who just can't find the pea.
One of the film's points is that the affluent, shutdown and unfeeling, are in need of a whole lot of shaking of their complacency to get human again. In a beautifully paranoid sequence, a battered Van Orton wakes up penniless in the Third World, every wanna-be fat cat's worst nightmare. In the end, the audience is dropped off, amazed and bewildered, at the side of the road.
Actually, Fincher just might need a little help from the auteur critics on this one. The auteur theory rescued the reputations of Hollywood directors like Howard Hawks, John Ford and Nicholas Ray from production-line anonymity. It saw style and deep content as markers of genius and helped us discover art in America where we thought there was nothing more than crass entertainment.
Fincher's work stands as a good example of the auteurist idea. Each of his three films infuses dark, world-weary cynicism into a different movie genre: Alien 3, sci-fi; Seven, noir-horror; The Game, the thriller. And each is delivered with terrific visual flair.
So if we remember that even Alfred Hitchcock had to fight his way past the reviewer-snobs of his time, ventually to be recognized as one of cinema's greats, then maybe The Game might get the critical break it deserves.
Either way, the public -- that bunch of freaked-out suspense masochists -- is going to love it.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.