TL;DR – There are some interesting character and filmmaking choices, but none of that really helps this film do anything more than mediocre-ing its way through to its ending.
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit sequence and an end credit stinger
Game Night is really an odd duck of a film, it has some good character moments, and it is clear that the directors know what they are doing. However, as I walked out of the cinemas I kind of felt it was all a bit meh. So today we are going to unpack what happened by looking at the characters and the story.
However before we jump into that, let’s set the scene. Going through life Max (Jason Bateman) was always super competitive trying to win at everything no matter if it was charades or trivia. One day at a trivia event he met his match as Annie (Rachel McAdams) is just as competitive as he is. Together they create a partnership on and off the gaming field as they become a couple and also create a weekly game night. All of this is going swimmingly until a number of external forces hit at once, Annie and Max are having trouble conceiving, Gary (Jesse Plemons) their weird neighbour keeps trying to force himself into their game nights even though no one wants him there, and Max’s more successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is back in town. Brooks has a way of making everybody around him be at ease bar Max who he continually discredits and mocks. Well, Brooks decides it would be good for him to run game night for once and invites everyone over to the swanky mansion he is renting, it is here that he tells everyone that tonight is going to be a bit different. For you see, they are going to play a fake abduction game where one of them gets taken and the others have to find them, and it is all going swimmingly until everything falls apart.
While to be clear, this is an interesting set up for the film, however, they never quite build on it as well as they could have. One of the reasons for that is that they don’t really give the supporting cast much to do. So you have Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) who’s only plot line in the movie is that while they were on a break Michelle slept with a celebrity, that’s it. You have Ryan (Billy Magnussen) the fit dumb lovable one of the group who usually loses because he brings dumb blonds to game night. Well, this time because there is a chance of a cool prize he brings his much smarter co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan) as a ringer. Sarah thought they were on a date, then finds out they are not so there is actively no relationship between them and can you guess how that turns out by the end of the film. This is just a missed opportunity to take this fish out of water scenario and elevate it with some of the great talents they had here, but it does not happen.
Now I have been a bit negative with the film and there is some good reason for that, however, it would be remiss of me not to point out some of the fascinating things that film does do. There are some really great comedic actors in this film, and as I have mentioned they are not given much to do but they still create some moments that are absolutely hilarious. I have to give big props to Sharon Horgan who elevates every scene she is in with some of the best dead-pan delivery I have seen, and Michael C. Hall who is a surprising delight when he pops up in the film. As well as this, it is clear that the filmmakers know what they are doing because every scene is well filmed and there are some interesting moments. For example, a chase through a mansion that is filmed in that faux-single shot style that is really engaging. As well as this, they start every important scene with a shot created using tilt-shift photography that is both fun to see and a good link back to the game night theme.
Where the film really bogs down is in its story and to explain some of this there will be some serious [SPOILERS] coming up so if you have not seen the film you have been warned. So the main hook of the film is that while they are expecting a fake-abduction what they get is a real-life abduction as Brooks is taken by real kidnappers, yet everyone still thinks it is a game. This is a great premise of a film if you focused on that disconnect, you get everyone fumbling around having fun until the realisation hits, and then they have to really rescue their friend form bad guys. However, the film does not stop there and actively over complicates things by having multiple unnecessary storylines that both bloat the film and dilute the main story. So one of the running themes is the weird cop neighbour Gary, who used to come to games night because his wife was friends with everyone but now doesn’t after they got a divorce. So he is creepy and that is played for laughs and it is ok, but as the film goes on he turns out to be a master manipulator that is also faking part of the night. Then we have even another player when the fake The Bulgarian turns out to be real. So the film has the real fake-abduction, the second fake-abduction that people think is real, and then the real-real-abduction. There is a point where the characters joke that there is another plot twist and I and the rest of the audience just groaned.
In the end, do we recommend Game Night? No, not really. Look it you are going to see a film and your friends want to go see this, you will have some laughs even if the film never quite works. However, on the whole, this is a film where you can see the potential of the characters and the situation and they never really capitalise on it. Oh and just an aside, if the most complicated game you are playing on games night is Risk, well then maybe just maybe you need to invest in better games, not murder mysteries. So can I recommend to you Arabian Nights, Ticket to Ride, Love Letter, Codenames, The Resistance, Small World, Galaxy Trucker, Mafia de Cuba, Cosmic Encounters, Concept, Archipelago, Catan, Articulate, Dead Last and many, many, many, many, many more.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Game Night
Directed by – John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Written by – Mark Perez
Music by – Cliff Martinez
Cinematography by – Barry Peterson
Edited by – Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin & David Egan
Starring – Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Jeffrey Wright, Danny Huston & Chelsea Peretti
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R