The Game Review: The Most Audacious Movie from David Fincher

The Game is Directed by David Fincher and Stars Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger and Sean Penn

Review: The Game continued the winning streak for David Fincher, putting him in position to capitalize on more ambitious movies down the line. It’s a twisted film that leans on well-rounded performances by Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.

michael douglas the game 1997 review
Michael Douglas in The Game (1997), directed by David Fincher

The Game Review and Rating

Fresh off the success of Se7en, David Fincher used the opportunity to make a move that is deeply idiosyncratic and cynical, matching his personal interests with a story that breaks down the infrastructure of masculinity in a world of wealthy businessmen. The Game is not only a David Fincher movie, it feels like the most David Fincher movie, and amalgamation of common themes regurgitated with each film that follows.

And The Game is also David Fincher’s most outlandish film, zigging and zagging through a handful of ridiculous events and artifice until the director finally shows his cards. It’s endlessly entertaining, daring the audience to play along and wonder whether the events unfolding are linked together or not. It messes with your subconscious in a way very few movies do, as if The Game is a meaner and more sadistic version of Being John Malkovic.

And the movie sure is mean. It has no remorse for its protagonist – an understated, angry, and self-effacing performance by Michael Douglas, who acts as a cipher to this puzzle box. Offered a gift by his incrementally more free-spirited brother Conrad (Sean Penn), Douglas’ character reluctantly indulges and enters a world he knows nothing about.

Nicholas embarks on a twisted few days conceived of by a company that offers no more information than the fact that it’s just a “game.” Not knowing what he’s signed himself up for, Nicholas is stripped of everything that has made himself successful, forcing him to confront his own views about himself and the control he constantly needs over everything in his life.

The movie serves as Fincher’s third, working beyond the linear and straightforward narratives of Alien 3 and Se7en. It’s a small step outside of his comfort zone, but it allows him to run laps around a viewer. It’s cynical, but not insincere. The Game still knows how to have fun between the handful of darker moments.

Fincher’s grasp of tone takes over in The Game, marking one of the few times he’s been able to spin a tale as dreadful and imaginative as this. It’s a masterclass in the subgenre of psychological thriller, leaving Nicholas and the audience to question what’s real. The Game is enigmatic with Fincher proving once again his ability to toy with a viewer’s perception.

Michael Douglas and Sean Penn brilliantly play different sides of the financial coin left by the death of their father. Nicholas inherits many of the negative traits: a constant need for control, and the bemoaning of people who are lesser than him. Conrad takes a slightly different approach, indulging in the wealth given to him by his inheritance, while still trying to break free from the shackles of the wealthy family he was born into.

Which is where the movie eventually tries to take Nicholas – away from his inherited traits and towards a more peaceful life of living. The Game inevitably strips him of his wealth and notoriety, tasking him with building a foundation void of financial means.

Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris craft a screenplay that thrives on its mind-bending premise. The narrative dances through a series of twists and turns, never allowing the audience to rest comfortably in their understanding of the story’s reality. Just when one believes they’ve cracked the code, the film elegantly subverts expectations, keeping viewers engaged in its remarkably tight grasp.

Reviews for Films like The Game (1997)

With its haunting musical score by Howard Shore, the film’s auditory landscape further augments the suspense and intrigue. The score’s dissonant tones mirror the psychological turmoil of the protagonist, further immersing the audience into his disorienting experience.

The Game isn’t quite David Fincher’s best film, but it certainly might be his most underrated. It’s noteworthy that a movie with this level of talent both in front of and behind the camera got lost to time. Douglas and Penn give two of my favorite performances by each of them, and the dark, cynical tone of Fincher perfectly matches this story he’s trying to weave.

It’s hard to pull off a movie with this many layers of puzzling events and deeply seeded mistrust. You have to have such a grasp on your own craft in order to attempt such a film – a belief that your career won’t be heavily impacted if you can’t successfully deliver on what you’re promising. But it works for Fincher, and looking back on it, The Game becomes one of his most interesting movies.


Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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The Game Cast and Credits

the game review 1997 movie


Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton

Sean Penn as Conrad Van Orton

Deborah Kara Unger as Christine

James Rebhorn as Jim Feingold

Peter Donat as Samuel Sutherland

Carroll Baker as Ilsa


Director: David Fincher

Writers: Larry GrossJohn BrancatoMichael Ferris

Cinematography: Harris Savides

Editor: James Haygood

Composer: Howard Shore

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