Copyright © 1997. All Rights Reserved.
Games people play
Stylish director takes his voyeurism seriously
by Cynthia Amsden
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and Deborah Unger
Opens Friday, September 12
In the movie, The Game, Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) has so much of everything, he has nothing. And his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn) has the ideal birthday gift for him. Fun.
"Fun?" asks Nicholas, as if hearing a foreign language.
"You've heard of it. You've seen other people having it," explains his brother.
And with that, Conrad van Orton hands Nicholas a gift certificate from Creative Recreational Services, where they offer a game tailored specifically to each participant. What Nicholas, a ruthless businessman, soon discovers is that like any game worth the time spent playing, there are no rules except coming out alive.
In this new film from David Fincher, director of Seven and Aliens 3, he takes audiences beyond the realm of the usual car chase/explosion/shoot-'em-up action thriller. There isn't even a hint of saving the world from takeover in the plot. Fincher prefers messing around with the expected and giving it a new, darker twist. And his efforts don't go unnoticed. After an early screening of Seven, the very nasty take on the serial killer format starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, someone demanded to know, "How could you take a perfectly good genre movie and turn it into a foreign film?"
What most people don't yet realize about Fincher is that he is one of the first of the music video directors to graduate to the big screen, giving him more of an in-your-face approach to filmmaking. Young (34), edgy and a little iconoclastic, he's giving Tim Burton a run for his directing money.
When it comes to shooting a story, Fincher's a self-confessed voyeur. He enjoys, almost sadistically, letting audiences make up their own minds about the story, as opposed to shoving the "narrative nuggets" down their throats.
"I like to watch, I like the (camera's) point of view that says, 'Here's the scene, you decide,'" explains Fincher during a recent interview in Los Angeles
Carving a place somewhere between studio extravaganzas and raw indie film, Fincher delivers with a product that is slickly packaged, yet it's brilliantly crafted to deliver at a variety of psychological levels. It's all part of what Fincher describes as "responsible filmmaking."
"What's intriguing to me is that pact where the audience says, 'Okay, I give you my attention and in return, I want you to value my attention,'" he says. "When you go out to a movie, you want to feel something.... My responsibility is to make you feel something, not necessarily to educate you or to entertain you in classic vaudevillian terms. You're going to have to give yourself over to a story about somebody who's in dire jeopardy. There's a bogus promise of jeopardy in most movies so I think it's more fun for the audience not to know where the movie's going."
Casting the award-winning Michael Douglas in the lead role has the appearance of a sure thing, given that his filmography includes solid hits like Basic Instinct, Black Rain and Wall Street. Yet the combination of the Douglas image with Fincher's inherent bleakness and a San Francisco backdrop of cloistered wealth and bloodless privilege produces a character so emotionally atrophied that audiences take their time developing sympathy for him, preferring to watch him twist in the chaotic wind of the game.
Logically, because Douglas is a big-ticket actor, he should still be standing at the end of the movie, but ya know, Fincher just doesn't play to the sure thing. And the hidden irony here is the script was completed six years ago, but was held up "because of the last six pages."
Douglas, ever the flaming ladies' man, this time acts opposite Canadian actress Deborah Unger, who plays Christine, in her first film since David Cronenberg's Crash. (Landing a project of this calibre indicates the bankable value Crash brought to her name, which speaks well for the domestic film industry.) Together, they gallop and leap through the hoops set out before them, "facilitating" Fincher's idea of how the game should be played.
"It was intellectually pretty exhausting," Fincher explains, "with everybody playing so many different lies."
Ultimately, it would be wonderful if The Game really did exist because we all know people who could use a little of this kind of "fun" in their lives.
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