Game 6

Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. in Game 6

Back in the early 1990s, novelist and playwright Don DeLillo decided to try his hand at writing a movie screenplay. The script sat on the shelf for over a decade, and during that time DeLillo wound up cannibalizing the structure (and a handful of other ideas) for his acclaimed novel Cosmopolis. In 2005, the script finally made its way to the big screen under the loving guidance of director Michael Hoffman. Truth be told, it was a labor of love for all involved: a number of well-known actors worked for a mere $100 per day, eager to take a stab at capturing DeLillo's voice on the big screen (something which had never been attempted before). The results are mixed, but Game 6 is a compelling, ambitious little movie that foreshadows both David Cronenberg's adaptation of Cosmopolis and the Oscar-winning Birdman.

Like Cosmopolis, Game 6 spotlights a series of self-contained encounters that cumulatively build to a defining moment of clarity over the course of a single day. We follow playwright Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton, Beetlejuice), who is preparing for the opening night of his latest work. It's quite possibly the finest play he's ever written, but there are problems: his lead actor (Harris Yulin, Multiplicity) has a brain parasite which is suddenly causing him to forget his lines, and the notoriously nasty theatre critic Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man) is planning to attend the opening night performance.

The movie is a portrait of a man trapped in the limbo of midlife crisis. His life is filled with uncertainty: he's torn between his wife (Catherine O'Hara, Best in Show) and his mistress (Bebe Neuwirth, Frasier), he fumbles through his relationship with his daughter (Ari Graynor, The Sopranos) and he knows that the fate of his career rides on the reception of his new play. Many scenes in the film take place in the back of taxi cabs, and after a while we begin to notice that the cabs never actually move. Nicky's life is in stasis.

Hoffman and his actors occasionally struggle in their attempt to figure out how to play DeLillo's unusual dialogue. Cronenberg found the right answer in Cosmopolis by having his actors embrace the dialogue's strange, otherworldly qualities (rarely have human beings felt more alien), but that answer only seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight. The Game 6 actors try to humanize the dialogue and make it more approachable, which sometimes works (see: pretty much everything Keaton does) and sometimes doesn't (see: the scene in which a woman cheerfully asks Nicky to describe the sensation of a bullet ripping flesh apart).

The film's title references the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, which just so happens to be taking place the same night as the opening of Nicky's play. You've undoubtedly seen footage of that game: it's the one where New York Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson hit a slow ground ball that rolled right through the legs of Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. Sports metaphors are common in cinema – heck, in fiction of any sort – but this metaphor is a particularly potent one. Rarely has defeat been clutched from the jaws of victory in such memorable fashion. Nicky is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and he knows deep down that defeat is inevitable. Is it any wonder he's feeling gloomy about the opening of his play?

The film's best character is Schwimmer, who transcends the tired “hateful critic” stereotype (something the aforementioned Birdman is guilty of indulging) and ultimately reveals himself as a wounded, deeply human individual. Schwimmer doesn't write negative reviews because he hates the world and wants to take everyone else down. He just finds most of what he sees to be dishonest, and he exposes that dishonesty with unforgiving eloquence. “The truth is never gentle,” he growls. Griffin Dunne (After Hours) does affecting work as one of Schwimmer's victims, a playwright so shaken by a review he received that he finds himself unable to write anything else. Downey is only in the movie for a few minutes, but his presence hangs over it like a storm cloud. He is Critic, the Bringer of (Career) Death. The film's climactic scene - an intimate, honest conversation between Nicky and Schwimmer – is the movie's strongest moment, a worthwhile finish to a slightly bumpy ride. I won't tell you how it concludes, but I will tell you that it's followed by a scene in which a taxi cab actually moves.

Game 6 Poster

Game 6

Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Year: 2005