People tend to forget (or at any rate disregard) this little thriller from David Fincher from 1997, but it’s a brain-noodling tease of a movie that starts off as a great little puzzle before slowly dismantling the very framework that had you contextualising it as such in the first place. Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a filthy rich investment banker whose extensive fortune is matched only by his detachment from empathic society.
For his 48th birthday, his younger brother Conrad (Penn) gives Nick a voucher from Consumer Recreation Services – a kind of Red Letter Days experience on steroids. And acid. As we have come to expect from Fincher, the art designs and cinematography, as meticulous and painterly as always, play second fiddle to the intricate character study that always accompanies them. This is a film about a man who uses his isolation and routine to process the world around him, and what happens when that world is forcibly reshaped. A man who penitently keeps his Father’s ghost at his side.
Douglas is the perfect lead here. No one does condescendingly affluent and empowered quite like him, yet he’s also adept at playing chaotically panicked once the wheels start to come off. The film as as much a game for us as it is for Nick. Fincher ties us up in Nick’s predicament. How much can we both take? How many red herrings until we implore the heavens that we don’t want to play any more? Many, I suspect, bowed out before the end, but those of us like Nick who saw the game through, know how glad we are to have had the opportunity to play.
Words: Ash Verjee