Joshua Reviews David Fincher’s The Game [Blu-ray Review]

Known today as one of the film world’s foremost auteurs, director David Fincher has had a career driven by his own singular voice. Following a rough experience on his first major feature-length film, Alien 3 (a film the director to this day disowns), Fincher has gone on to craft some of the greatest American films of his era be it the generation-defining Fight Club or the whole different generation defining The Social Network, Fincher has been a filmmaker admired, revered and sought after ever since.

However, he’s also the craftsman behind some of the more underrated gems of modern cinema, the most intriguing of which being the now Criterion Blu-ray approved (the film was part of Criterion’s Laserdisc lineup) The Game. One of Fincher’s most underrated works (alongside the equally undervalued Panic Room) it’s every bit a ‘David Fincher film.’ Dark, brooding and mood-driven, the film is as stylistically forward-thinking as they come, and still as thrilling as anything being churned out by directors today.

And if this Blu-ray does anything, it proves once again that it’s every bit a masterpiece as anything the director has made.

Fincher’s follow-up to his masterpiece (and still his absolute best film), the definitive thriller Seven, The Game follows the story of the immensely wealthy and powerful Nicholas Van Orton who is introduced to a special group, known as CRS, by his brother. However, when it is revealed that this group puts its clients into a ‘game’ that may cost them more than just their hard-earned money, things spiral out of control, turning the film into a Hitchcockian thriller spearheaded by a visually inspired filmmaker and a lead performance from Michael Douglas that is hard to argue with. Now in stunning HD thanks to Criterion, this release has been as long-awaited as they come, and thankfully, it lives up to every single expectation one could have ever had for it.

While this review started discussing the auteur at its center, Michael Douglas, the film’s star, is as shinning a light as the film has to offer. Perfectly jumping from tonal shift to tonal shift; one moment being cold and completely disconnected only to find himself in the next moment a witty and slyly sarcastic bastard of a finance banker, the film doesn’t quite offer the highest of actor achievements, but what it does offer in his performance is a Master’s class on tone and mood. Douglas is in just about every scene, and while his motivations don’t always seem clear or fleshed out (one would wonder why the man who does truly have everything would waste his time on something so juvenile), his character is so coldly charismatic that you really just want to delve deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole alongside him from the very first frame to the very final one.

Penn is great here, only featured in a handful of moments, but he steals both major sequences. The relationship between Penn and Douglas is really entertaining and their interchanges offer up some of the film’s most dire drama, and some of its most potent comedy.   Deborah Kara Unger is also great here as the other major player, but it’s truly Douglas’ show, and he’s the name and the face most people will be raving about after revisiting this masterpiece.

And yes, the aesthetic is wonderful and entirely led by Fincher, but the team behind the look and feel of the film, as a whole, craft one of the most undervalued thrillers around. The score by Howard Shore is potent and chillingly Penderecki-like, and the cinematography from Harry Savides is just as frigid. Fincher adores his crisp, digital photography and it’s on full display here, with all of Fincher’s visual touches (be it the staccato edits or the beautifully legato pans), with everyone from screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris to effects specialist Kevin Haug playing at the very top of their game. Fincher crafts with this film a beautifully icy look at American apathy and Capitalism, and how with latter, the former is almost inevitable. With new tinges of the Occupy Movement tossed upon it at this point, one can’t help but think that Fincher’s thriller is every bit as timeless as anything the director has made, if only overshadowed by the overrated and poorly aging Fight Club, Fincher’s most famous work from this time period.

And as far as a release goes, this Blu-ray is absolutely breathtaking. Porting over some features from Criterion’s Laserdisc for the film, an extensive commentary track is the greatest supplement here. Including Fincher, the track features Savides, Douglas, writers Brancato and Ferris, animation supervisor Richard ‘Dr.’ Baily, production designer Jeff Beecroft and effects supervisor Kevin Haug. The team also does commentary on a handful of the other supplements, including over 60 minutes of behind the scenes and on set footage of a handful of the film’s setpieces as well as film-to-storyboard comparisons for the sequences. Finally, there is the teaser, the trailer, an alternate ending as well as the CRS testing video, in full, featuring footage not shown during the feature.

But it’s all about the transfer. Supervised by Savides with both a theatrical and ‘optimized’ audio mix, the film’s video and audio transfers are definitive. The film truly hasn’t looked this good in quite some time. There was an HD-DVD for the film released a handful of years ago, but I think it’s safe to say that this release is easily the best the film has looked since its theatrical run. It’s a film Criterion has been having in the works for a Blu-ray release for what appears to be some time, and the release, in its entirety from box art to its transfer is some of the best work they’ve done this year. Just buy the damn thing already.

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