A quintessential B-movie in the best sense of that imprimatur, “The Game’s” main character is a cutthroat investment banker played by Michael Douglas, the same actor who gave moviegoers the more-trenchant-than-ever Gordon Gekko. Thanks to that auspicious casting call, the film seems in retrospect like a thinly veiled sequel to Oliver Stone’s 1987 classic “Wall Street,” with Bluestar Airlines renamed Baer-Grant Publishing; Gekko renamed Nicholas Van Orton; and a pitiable family backstory that rationalizes the character’s plunge into pathological greed.
Like every corporate scoundrel dragged before Congress, Van Orton describes his soul-pulverizing work in anodyne terms. “I move money from one place to another,” he tells one acquaintance. Contrary to such bromides, though, he is as recognizable to us as today’s pampered Wall Street executives who exist in a hermetically sealed bubble of privilege and power. In Fincher’s caricature of this timeless brute, Van Orton’s $2,000 loafers almost never touch the macadam. Indeed, as a CNBC soundtrack thrums in the background, he floats from his manse, to his BMW, to his towering Van Orton Building to the scotch-and-cigar city club — all while orchestrating hostile takeovers via his cell phone.
There is, however, a key difference between Van Orton and today’s typical Master of the Universe. In Fincher’s fantasy world, the protagonist happens to have a capricious brother who hires a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS) to try to end his bloodless sociopathy and change him into a compassionate human — specifically by exposing him to the cruelties of real life.
Over the course of the ensuing “game,” CRS first berates Van Orton as “a bloated millionaire fat cat” then constructs elaborate illusions to make him believe that a faceless multinational corporation (probably like the one he runs) has successively stolen his identity, pilfered his savings and left him for dead in a Mexican cemetery. The experience, replete with a harrowing taxi ride to the bottom of the San Francisco Bay, convinces Van Orton that he is facing both financial and spiritual destruction, eventually prompting him to try (unsuccessfully) to commit suicide. Through CRS’ perverse exposure therapy, he is ultimately transformed from a Mitt Romney caricature who declares that the only virtue in life is whether a share of stock is up, into a bleeding heart who decries losses to workers’ pension plans and says “I don’t care about money.”
Yes. I love The Game. Great movie.