1997 Movie Review: THE GAME, 1997 (David Fincher, Michael Douglas, Sean Penn)

THE GAME, 1997
Movie Reviews

Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn
Review by Mike Peters


Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is an investment banker who is always in control of the situation. He is cold, calculating and always on his game. Nicholas lives a well-ordered life-until an unexpected birthday gift from his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), destroys it all.


David Fincher has once been quoted as saying “I don’t know how much movies should entertain. I’m interested in movies that scar”. Whether he is referring to the scarring of the characters within his films or of the audience voyeuristically partaking in his dark and twisted tales is unclear. What is definitely accurate about Fincher’s films is that they leave an undeniable mark on each and everyone involved.

It is hard to mistake a Fincher film. They usually contain very little natural light and the atmosphere will be extremely unsettling. This will then force the audience to share the protagonists’ feelings of unease and paranoia. As well, by the end of the film, Fincher’s “hero” has usually undergone some sort of life-changing trauma.

The Game is a film that may be the least known of Fincher’s. It arrived in between Seven (1995) and Fight Club (1999) and has seemed to have been overlooked as a great film. This is a great film. The manipulative control Fincher seems to possess over his audience is mastery in its calculation and concoction.

The story is simple. A man is given a present that will eventually drive him to the depths of depravity and despair by turning him into the character he has always deemed offensive and unimportant. It is a well known story cliché. He will then become a better person as a result of his journey which will be expressed through his change in character and his thoughts and actions towards others. However, Fincher beautifully makes this simple story his own. Fincher is a master of brooding and depressing atmospheres. There is no life in his films. Oh, there are people alive but his focus seems to be on reanimating the dead that exists within the body. Nicolas Van Orton is a character who lives alone. He is rich, powerful and most of all, successful. But yet, he is dead within. He rarely smiles and seems to have become who he is now as a result of witnessing his father’s suicide at a young age. Other than talking to his housekeeper and his lawyer (which he still does to a limited degree), he is a man who keeps to himself. He does not want to be bothered and will only bother another if there is progress to be made. He is sort of a 90’s version of Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (who Douglas played as well) who is more in touch with control and intimidation then he is with emotional contact.

The idea that Nicolas was unable to prevent his father’s suicide left him in a state of shock. He was unable to control the situation and thus he felt pain for the very first time. The film starts off with images of Nicolas as a child and his father and it is clear that this event was crucial in the shaping of Nicolas as a man. He lost a very important person in his life and as a result, he became a closed off and emotionally detached human being. He feels that being in control will prevent him from ever feeling pain again but yet (unaware to him until after the “game” begins) he yearns for closure in regards to his father’s death. It is only when the “game” begins that he slowly begins to exist once again and to reemerge as a living entity.

Douglas is masterful in his performance. He refuses to break character at any moment until it is deemed necessary by the script. Even when this “game” begins, Douglas portrays Nicolas as a character who still believes he is in control of the situation. He believes he has it all figured out until, of course, he doesn’t. When things do not go as planned, he panics as a result. He does not know how to control the situation which leaves him vulnerable and confused (feelings he has cut himself off from). He has never had to cope with change because he has never attempted to change himself. He must rediscover his inner self before there is any chance of redemption or rebirth.

Within moments of the films’ commencement, we come to identify with Nicolas. He may not be the most friendly and admirable protagonist in film history but yet we still attempt to identify with him. As a result, we form some sort of control over the narrative. We believe that we understand the simple structure of the story and will not be undermined by it in any manner (as Nicolas feels when the “game” begins). However, as this film progresses, we, the audience, become lost and confused. We, as Nicolas, are unaware of our surroundings and have become paranoid and fearful of the people within the narrative. Who do we trust? Where do we go from here? It is now the blind leading the blind.

This film may not be noted as one of Fincher’s more important pieces of work but yet it is a beautifully crafted piece of entertainment. The writing is taut and the acting is superb. Yes, many of the events are implausible and rely heavily on coincidence and chance but it is told and shot in such a high octane sort of way that the audience is quick to forgive the filmmakers for these insignificant and basically pointless quibbles.



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1987 Movie Review: WALLSTREET, 1987


Movie Reviews

Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen
Review by Mike Peters


In 1985, an ambitious young broker, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is lured into the illegal, lucrative world of corporate espionage when he is seduced by the power, status and financial wizardry of Wall Street legend Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).


Janwillem Van De Weterling once said that: “greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough”. Greed is good according to Gordon Gekko. It is the template of society. Without greed, there would be no progression, no desire, no nothing.

Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Gordon Gekko is masterly. The slick and calculating financier who uses and abuses the people around him is perhaps one of the most vile and despicable characters in film history. However, for as much as the audience hates him, they can never take their eyes off of him. He controls the gaze and manipulates and twists the emotions of the people he is trying to convince. As he notes to Bud Fox, there are no friends in the business world: “If you want a friend, buy a dog”.

Gekko’s name has clearly been inspired by the insect that feeds off insects less powerful. Scaly and slithery, the gecko is a creature that is quite innocent from a physical perspective but is driven by a desire to live and survive in the jungles of the land from all adversaries. Gordon Gekko is exactly the same. He is not content with merely surviving in the jungles of the business world but rather is determined to destroy all of his competition with a vengeance. He is a greedy, self absorbed mongrel but people attach themselves to him as if they were moths to a flame. Bud Fox fits this analogy to a tee and is definitely burned by it.

The 1980s was a decade in search of an identity. The 1960s and 1970s had been tumultuous years for America and great change was thus needed in the 80s in order to instill some sort of defined leadership to appease society. When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1980, he demanded alterations in hopes of witnessing the revival of The United States of America. He pushed forward the prospect of individual freedom and the idea that the individual could accomplish anything on the strength of himself rather then through a reliance on government institutions. In connection with this, Reagan also wanted to reinvigorate the United States economy. As a result, the 1980s became more about the self rather then the country for many individuals. Driven by the idea that dreams could be accomplished through capitalistic practices, America became a self-absorbed culture of excess.

Bud Fox is a man driven by these very needs. A broker who frantically must sell himself to clients all day long finally begins to become disillusioned with his current status. At one point, he notes that he wonders when he will be on the other end of the line. Instead of selling, he wants to be buying. His desire is to be like Gordon Gekko. He is passionate and determined and after 40 days of constant harassment, Gekko finally agrees to see Fox. But he is in over his head from the get go. When he enters Gekko’s luxurious office (which is ten times the size of his apartment on the upper west side of New York), he stares in amazed wonderment. Gekko is such an imposing figure that he intimidates the young Fox. Being slightly coy with him, he demands that Bud tell him something worthwhile. He is playing and toying with him the entire time and is setting him up for the kill. That is until Fox surprises him with a tip. Gekko no longer feels the need to kill him off (figuratively) and cast him back out in the harsh world of bureaucratic business. Gekko understands that he can now use him and mold him into someone who can help him become even richer.

Fox is so enamored by the chance to alter his present situation of financial strain that he quickly is enveloped into the lecherous world of Gekko. Immediately, Fox begins to change both externally and internally. His suits become darker, his hair becomes slicker rather then frazzled, his ideals begin to change and arrogance begins to manifest itself from within (which has never been transparent before). In one instance, his desire to become someone has corrupted his ideals and has transformed him into the man Gekko wants him to be.

Oliver Stone provides an interesting sub-story at this point of the film. Fox’s father, Carl (Martin Sheen), is an honorable working class man who fixes airplanes. He is a morally centered man. He dreams that his son will make something of his life and desires the best for him. He truly cares for his son whereas Gekko merely uses him. In a sense, Carl Fox and Gordon Gekko are vying for the soul of Bud. He must choose between the ideals emphasized by the character traits of these two men. Bud’s desire has always been to become successful and rich and he is easily manipulated by the temptation of what Gekko has to offer him. Gekko not only blackens the soul of Bud but he also becomes a new father figure to him by lavishing gifts and women on him (which Carl never had the ability to do). Bud turns his back on his father because success has tainted him. Money has become his life; his new family. Wall Street is not a perfect film in any way. In fact, it is not one of Stone’s masterpieces. But it does capture a time period with magnificent clarity as a result of Oliver Stone’s ability to capture greed at its finest. With this being said, there are some elements that take away from the overall impact of the film. For instance, Darryl Hannah’s performance is forgettable, Sean Young’s turn as Gekko’s wife is small and unmentionable (she is barely in the film although I assume that this is the point-the business world and personal world do not mix and Gekko has clearly chosen the professional world as his family), the music is typical cheesy 80’s fare and the self reflecting dialogue by Fox is sometimes forced and illogical.

Though the story follows a familiar trajectory with rise, fall and redemption elements, there is still something truly intoxicating about the film. As we journey with Fox, we realize what he is becoming. He is no longer in control of his destiny. He has sold his soul to the devil in order to feel superficially happy. It is a morality tale that can speak to the likes of everyone. How much is too much? Is financial success the true meaning of happiness? Gekko is happy but he never truly lives in this film. He lives for the money but for nothing else. Is this the symbol of what life should be? Only you, the individual, can decide for yourself.


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Happy Birthday: Michael Douglas

michaeldouglas.jpgMichael Douglas

Born: September 25, 1944 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

[on his career and his favorite films] I always say you work as hard on your failures as your successes. I like my track record, I like my batting average. I got a real good batting average. A lot of movies. Not a lot of grand-slam home-runs, lot of singles, doubles, triples. Lot of hits, you know? Small but kind of ultimately worked out. Kind of fiduciary responsibilities and budgets. The ones that stick out are the ones nobody wanted to make, from Falling Down (1993) to Fatal Attraction (1987), things like that. Or ones that were so bizarre. The War of the Roses (1989), Wonder Boys (2000).

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Michael Douglas






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