Enormously wealthy and emotionally remote investment banker Nicholas Van Orton (Traffic’s Michael Douglas) receives a strange gift from his ne’er-do-well younger brother (Milk’s Sean Penn) on his forty-eighth birthday: a voucher for a game that, if he agrees to play it, will change his life. Thus begins a trip down a rabbit hole that is puzzling, terrifying, and exhilarating for Nicholas and viewer alike. This multilayered, noirish descent into one man’s personal hell is also a surreal, metacinematic journey that, two years after the phenomenon Se7en, further demonstrated that director David Fincher was one of Hollywood’s true contemporary visionaries.
It's not quite as clever as it tries to be, but The Game does a tremendous job of presenting the story of a rigid control freak trapped in circumstances that are increasingly beyond his control. Michael Douglas plays a rich, divorced, and dreadful investment banker whose 48th birthday reminds him of his father's suicide at the same age. He's locked in the cage of his own misery until his rebellious younger brother (Sean Penn) presents him with a birthday invitation to play "The Game" (described as "an experiential Book of the Month Club")--a mysterious offering from a company called Consumer Recreation Services. Before he knows the game has even begun, Douglas is caught up in a series of unexplained events designed to strip him of his tenuous security and cast him into a maelstrom of chaos. How do you play a game that hasn't any rules? That's what Douglas has to figure out, and he can't always rely on his intelligence to form logic out of what's happening to him. Seemingly cast as the fall guy in a conspiracy thriller, he encounters a waitress (Deborah Unger) who may or may not be trustworthy, and nothing can be taken at face value in a world turned upside down. Douglas is great at conveying the sheer panic of his character's dilemma, and despite some lapses in credibility and an anticlimactic ending, The Game remains a thinking person's thriller that grabs and holds your attention. --Jeff Shannon