When I was researching some background for my review of Focus last weekend, I was a bit surprised to find that The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn was something other people searched for along with it. I was surprised because this is one of those movies that I never saw advertised for the theatres. I’m not even sure how I ended up with a VHS copy of it, but I did, and VHS is what I usually watch while riding my stationary bike when the weather outside is nasty. I keep thinking that 1997 isn’t that long ago and then I realize it’s almost 20 years, so I guess it can be called an ‘old’ movie.
Old it may be, but it certainly was an amazing thriller. Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, an extremely wealthy businessman with a well-ordered life — nothing out of place, nothing making waves, nothing out of control. It’s his birthday and he’s turning 48, the same age his father was the day Nicholas came home from school just in time to see his father fall from the roof of their mansion onto the driveway in front of him. Nicholas eventually steps into his father’s shoes and tries his best to be a father-figure to his younger brother, Conrad (played by Penn), who has pushed all the rules and gone from one scrape to another with pizazz.
Conrad shows up to dine with his brother at a swanky restaurant and gives him the gift for the man who has everything — a personalized game from CRS (Consumer Recreational Services). It’s guaranteed to make his life fun. At first glance, Nicholas treats it with disdain, but when he is finishing a meeting and turns to see that CRS is in the same building, he decides he should give it a shot; after all, it is a gift from his brother. Later, he receives a call telling him he’s been rejected and won’t be receiving his game. But then, things start going wrong.
The game begins by merely shaking Nicholas out of his complacency, but at every turn, it escalates into something more threatening, more bizarre, more terrifying. With no-one as a close confidant, he forms a seemingly symbiotic relationship with the waitress who spilled drinks all over him, unsure whether he can trust her, but having no-one else to turn to. The more he seems to understand about the game, the more out-of-control it becomes. At one point, he is drugged and wakes up in a flimsy (thank goodness) coffin in a graveyard in Mexico — no money, no passport, no resources other than his wits.
If I tell you anything more, it will spoil it for you. If you haven’t seen it, and you love psychological thrillers, you should watch it. It is available online and the trailer is here: