Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is not the nicest man in the world, but then he didn't get where is today by being a pleasant businessman, he did it by taking his late father's inheritance and becoming a ruthless businessman. In spite of his apparent cool under the pressure of international finances, the fact his father committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the family mansion still eats away at him, though he has learned to keep his deepest feelings in check, and has done ever since he was a child. His brother Conrad (Sean Penn) is a different matter - and he has a birthday present for him.
Part of the run of paranoid thrillers which raced out of the nineties and informed the cinematic landscape of the next century, The Game was director David Fincher putting his mark of quality on a suspense piece which very much became his signature material. Yet while there were those in the audience dazzled by the virtuoso display of keeping the main character in the dark for the greater part of the running time, once it was all resolved there was a vocal number of viewers who complained that this was no way to end a film which had been barrelling along so strongly, if something this weirdly glacial and elegant could be legitimately described as "barrelling along".
What it came across as was a puzzle box of a movie inspired by John Frankenheimer's cult classic science fiction-horror hybrid Seconds, except with a different tone to the middle section and the finale, as if nobody was satisfied with the sixties' effort and its relentlessly bleak conclusion and opted to swap it with the more optimistic ambience of the central premise. Therefore if you were watching the Game all the way through and anticipating some chilly denouement to accompany a confounding build up, you would be equally confounded by the manner in which events resolved themselves. For a start, the question "Have you all gone completely insane?!" would have figured largely on most people's lips.
Not here though, as if the experience has been a method of teaching Van Orton the morals that he lacked at the beginning, where we understand he has shut everyone out of his life other than to deal with them professionally: he is adrift from any wife, girlfriend, children and his only family is the often absent Conrad, who has his own addiction issues to deal with. But then there's that present, celebrating Nicholas' forty-eighth birthday with something for the man who has everything, a lifestyle game not unlike an elaborate version of those dodgy companies who would kidnap you for your own pleasure just so you could have the fun of being abducted without the less fun of having a finger cut off and sent through the mail or whatever.
Van Orton must visit the company offices and undergo a series of physical and psychological tests (a nod to all-time great paranoia favourite The Parallax View), then sign on the dotted line whereupon he will receive his gift. This turns out to be nightmare material for a control freak, with his life taken over by these shadowy services who get up to such mindfuckery as placing a clown doll on his driveway which has a hidden camera inside, then getting his television to talk to him. If this doesn't sound like Derren Brown's choice of evening viewing on his night off, then what does? Soon Nicholas is going through Hell as nothing is what it seems and it appears the company have gotten out of hand in their efforts to give him the time of his life, including shooting at him and drugging him - except that if you twigged early on all of this was, if not real, then a cold set up then you'd have trouble getting quite as fooled as our anti-hero was. Besides, the suspension of disbelief required by the final twist was too much to bear, no matter how slick the presentation. Music by Howard Shore.