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Game Night Review – Pieces Without a Board

Game Night, directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, is about Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a competitive couple who take part in a murder mystery game night hosted by Max’s brother, Brooks. Things take a turn for the worse when unknown to them, the game is intercepted by real criminals.

Game Night
Max and Annie

The pros of Game Night definitely lie in the direction, cinematography and the lead actors. The directors approach this movie with creative energy which they achieve with some really innovative shots. These combine very well with the cinematography to give a unique look to the film, which piques your interest. There are shots where the camera rotates with a door lock keeping it completely still in the frame while everything else moves, and shots with the camera locked to a car door so it moves as the door does. The best example of this is a long take through a mansion towards the end of the second act. You can tell the directors harnessed their creativity into making this look like a one-of-a-kind experience. The tone of the film fits perfectly with the look; self-aware and not too serious. The focus remains on giving us a fun, entertaining affair.  The score is very electronic and game-inspired, adding to the tone of the film. The editing also paces the film quite well and times the jokes so that most of them hit perfectly. It brings the uniqueness of the direction to the forefront, letting us absorb the vision fully.

The lead actors also carry this movie really well, especially Bateman. He delivers the humor in such a subtle manner that you can’t help but laugh. This type of comedy that doesn’t work on paper but does on-screen due to the performances is quite refreshing. It puts into focus how much everyone from the writer to the director to the actor to the editor needs to be on the same wavelength to make comedy work. The subtlety shows that they respect the audience enough to get the joke. McAdams also does a great job, her humorous moments, while not as many as Bateman, are sprinkled throughout and worthy of a laugh. Their chemistry doesn’t drive the film like I would’ve wanted but its still a bright spot. Some of the side actors, namely Jesse Plemons and Billy Magnussen also deliver punchlines quite smoothly. However, while the acting is one of the best elements of the film, the direction is really the standout.

Game Night
The Participants of Game Night

But this direction is more than worthy of this script. Game Night is severely lacking in a solid substance. It’s understandable the focus was on making something entertaining, but it shouldn’t be done at the cost of the substantial matter. Characters are given very basic arcs and development comes more from things they say to each other, rather than action. In fact, the whole film is too plot-driven as opposed to character-driven. This makes it a more surface-level experience than it should have been. For example, Max and Annie’s competitive nature is given a moment of use toward the end, but it doesn’t mean anything to the story, instead it just comes off as a contrivance and they play it for a joke. The method of delivering exposition is almost primitive. Characters will have conversations where they give us the information we need, but they are so obviously tailored for this purpose only, and not in a clever manner.

The whole first act has a very inorganic feel to it, which just draws more attention to the writing. Surprise twists are brought up, but they don’t work as they don’t change the story or put a new spin on it. Instead, they’re forgotten two minutes after being brought up, making them seem pointless overall. The humor also suffers due to the writing. In the context of the pace and tone of the film, subtle humor is the perfect fit, and for the most part, it is achieved due to the actors’ performances. But the script drags so many jokes just a little too long to the point where the subtlety wears off and they just become unfunny. They had something great but ran with it just a bit too far and they lost it.

Game Night
Situations are funny but go on a bit more than needed

The characters of Game Night needed to be more fleshed-out. Max and Annie’s competitiveness is established through a very effective montage. It’s refreshing and well-executed. However, it leads to very little in the overall story. Max’s arc revolves around his lack of confidence due to the envy he has for his brother. This is where his competitiveness stems from and it’s more than a decent idea. It’s set up to be his main problem and constantly brought up throughout the first half, yet everything is resolved by just one small monologue the brother delivers toward the end of the second act. There was an attempt to make Max more courageous and daring after this resolution, but the humor in this portion of the film doesn’t gel with what they were going for. In fact, his wife is the one doing the major impactful action toward the end instead of him, just to play it off as a joke. Jokes are obviously needed in a comedy but not when it’s done at the cost of good character development. It’s too rushed and treated as almost unimportant in the bigger picture. His want and need aren’t interwoven like they should be, making his arc seem too contrived. I’m talking this much about just him as he’s the only one given any amount of weight.

The story moves forward because things happen to the characters, not because they make things happen. It just focuses on what they’re supposed to do instead of why. The subplots don’t really add anything to the movie, other than some laughs, and are more than forgettable. It almost comes off as filler. Characters are just funny, not interesting, even though the actors do their best to portray them on screen. The character of Gary is set up to be an obvious villain but turns out to help in the end. The actual villain is just some guy introduced in the third act. He has been talked about through the movie, but it doesn’t lead up to a big reveal. He just appears. There’s not much of an antagonistic force other than the situation they’re in that can drive the film forward in an interesting manner.

Jesse Plemons as Gary

Overall, Game Night is an amusing experience as it does have some obvious creativity behind the camera, upheld excellently by the talent in front of it. The technical aspects, tone, pacing, score, and overall vision are really solid and special. The directors seriously did more than the best they could with the story and script which was extremely lacking in anything that could be considered noteworthy. This film had all the support to make it great, just nothing to actually support.

By Madhav Kapoor

I'm a film student who wants to talk about movies. Currently specializing in film editing. Huge fan of Edgar Wright, Ricky Gervais, and comedy in general.

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