The Game

Viewed – 22 August 2017  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

As an admirer of director David Fincher, this thriller from 1997 was one of those movies I’d forgotten he’d actually made.  At the time still riding high after the success of Seven, this rather high-concept but somewhat under-the-radar effort proved an obvious follow up; throwing in all the traits we’d come to expect from the director – bags of style, a twisting narrative and an attention to detail that has him often compared to Stanley Kubrick.


Michael Douglas stars as wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton, a guy who seemingly has it all but is ultimately cold and miserable.  That is until on the day of his birthday, his brother, played by Sean Penn gives him the gift of ‘the game’.  Baffled and intrigued at the same time, Nicholas agrees to attend an interview at the organization responsible … and so sets into motion a unique thriller that clearly borrows from the likes of Hitchcock as Nicholas struggles to stay one step ahead of an increasingly bizarre series of events.

I’ve always liked Michael Douglas and he’s very good here, proving complex and likable for a character that is otherwise mean spirited and selfish.  Penn hams it up a little bit but proves enjoyable and Deborah Kara Unger is also decent.  The idea itself is great but ultimately isn’t fully realised and despite Fincher’s assured direction and best intentions … it could have gone further, been more elaborate but sticks rigidly to plausibility for the most part (despite throwing all that out the window for the final act).  Not one of Fincher’s best but still worth a look or revisiting for the concept or if you’re a fan of either Douglas or Fincher.

The Blu-ray boasts a quality image despite the occasionally soft-looking exterior or wide angle shots.  Close-up detail is good and dark scenes offer plenty of detail.  The movie is delivered in DTS Master Audio 5.1 and is for the most part punchy and immersive, even if in certain scenes dialogue gets a little lost in the atmospherics.  Extras consist of merely a couple of trailers – very poor, but perhaps not surprising for one of the director’s more over-looked movies.


(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3 /5


Director’s Cut vs Theatrical Version

I have a love / hate relationship with director’s cuts.  Often it seems I prefer the original of which I have become used to, and more often than not, any tinkering adds very little to the movie (ahem, Blade Runner), even to the point of ruining it (The Frighteners, anyone?)  Now Payback is definitely a different beast.  The original theatrical version plays out as a clever, mean and dirty revenge movie with bags of personality and energy to spare.  I loved it, but haven’t seen it in ages.  Last night I sat down to watch this new Director’s Cut, with hype surrounding it as a completely new movie compared to what was previously released. 


Mel Gibson is Porter, a hard-as-nails career crim who is double crossed by his partner in crime and left shy of 70 grand.  Now he is back in town and wants what he’s owed.  This simple set up lays the ingredients for a back-to-basics thriller, very much in that 70s cop movie vibe, and Gibson is joined by a quality cast, especially the always gorgeous Maria Bello, and the brilliant Lucy Liu.  I recall loving the one dimensional intensity of Gibson’s character, his charm and sly wit even when up against impossible odds – you route for him even though he’s despicable.  He’s just cool.

Now when comparing this to the theatrical version, we have a leaner, meaner cut, that although now showing Gibson knocking Deborah Kara Unger senseless and killing a heavy in cold blood, actually seems tamer in comparison.  We also get an entirely different third act, that lacks much of the ‘yes!’ climax of the original and excises Kris Kristofferson completely.  Perhaps fitting with the 70s vibe, the formerly blue tint to the movie has been replaced with a raw, gritty and vibrant colour palette, which gives the movie a new lease of life.

I’ll say I prefer the original overall as the missing scenes here do add a great deal, as did the voice over that is also gone – it just felt like a more fleshed out experience.  Yet I applaude what director Brian Helgeland was going for and think the new version is just as good – for different reasons.

The Blu-ray can’t be faulted mostly as its jam-packed with features, including a short documentary on the creation of the new cut, an audio commentary on the new cut, and behind the scenes featurettes to fill out the package.  The new look to the director’s cut impresses most, but both versions (as is presented here) are in great shape, with equally punchy Dolby True HD soundtracks.


(Director’s Cut):  4 /5

(Theatrical Version):  4 /5