Netflix, I have noticed lately, has a new category of movies that are around ninety minutes long. This is great for me as I try to watch a few movies a day. I do this in between all the other duties a typical day brings me. While scrolling through the choices this evening, I landed on a film that recall seeing back in the day in the theater, if 2009 can be considered “back in the day.” I am referring to a little film called Gamer. It is one of a whole host of action films that Gerard Butler has done that are put out there somewhere, only to be forgotten just as quickly. Indeed, I do not think I had thought of this one until I noticed it as an option on the streaming service. It is made even less memorable when you consider that it is basically Ready Player One (2018), though with real people instead of virtual reality. The fact that live people are being controlled by others is probably a reason why, unlike its counterpart, Gamer has an R rating. Anyway, on with the review.
Given the incredible pace of technological development, particularly in recent years, little of what you see in Gamer should be unfamiliar. That is also worrying. This is because the video game focused on the most is called “Slayer.” In it, the human avatars, controlled by the game’s players, are forced to fight in bloody combat. Of these vessels, none shine brighter than Kable (Gerard Butler), though his real name is John Tillman. Over the course of dozens of matches where the players and those they control are dropped into firefights, John must survive thirty battles in order to gain his freedom. Yes, the majority of people in Slayer are convicted criminals, and by participating in and surviving that number of battles, their sentence is terminated. John was a highly decorated soldier. Yet, he killed a man and is thrown into prison. While he is serving his time, his wife Angie Roth Tillman (Amber Valletta) finds a job in the original version of the game called “Society.” There is no violence here, just people acting out whatever awful fantasy that comes into their twisted minds. We see that this is not considered a reputable pursuit because when she applies to retake custody of her daughter who had been taken from her, the processing agent all but cites her working in the game as a reason for denial. The person pulling the strings behind this is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). He is the developer who invented Society and Slayer, and is making billions upon billions of dollars off his creations. Not everyone is on board with the technology mogul’s power and influence. One is investigative reporter Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgwick). She asks tough questions, but she does not have much to go on, yet. The other is the leader of what I shall refer to as, given the circumstances of the movie, an anti-gaming league called “Humanz.” Its leader, a person going by Brother (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), interrupts Ken’s broadcasts at times. The real headway made by Brother, though, is with the person controlling Kable in Slayer, a seventeen-year-old kid named Simon Silverton (Logan Lerman). Thus far, his gameplay has earned him a great deal of international recognition for being the one to guide Kable into potentially being the first person to make it out alive. Yet, when Brother manages to contact Simon, the rebel reveals to the teenager the real cost of playing the game. At the same time, John is being fed information about the potential of escape from the outside by a member of the Humanz going by Trace (Alison Lohman). To make sure they believe him, they manage to sneak into him a picture of his wife. Their plan is to get Simon to sever the connection with Kable, thus allowing John to move freely. This is coming not a moment too soon as Ken has arranged for his own killer, Hackman (Terry Crews), to enter the game without controls for the sole purpose of killing John before he can reach the end of his time. Ken is keen on seeing John dead because Ken had used John to murder one of his pals from the army. Therefore, John knows a truth that could bring down all that Ken has built, hence the use of Hackman. Instead, John finds a way to get out of the game, aided by Simon giving him autonomy. With the Humanz help, too, John is able to locate Angie and rescue her from the environment in which Society is played. Their escape is also abetted by Gina, who sees an opportunity for the story for which she has been looking for some time. The only thing missing is their daughter. Unfortunately, as Trace informs John, custody of her has been transferred to Ken. Thus, John goes alone to Ken’s mansion to take back his daughter. Doing so brings him face-to-face with Ken, and he does some classic villain monologuing, revealing his ultimate plans. He also cannot be hurt by John because he has some extra technology that allows him to control John’s actions despite the countermeasures undertaken by the Humanz. He is defeated, though, by Gina, who uses that same technology to do two things. First, she gets what is happening between John and Ken to be broadcast all over the world, allowing them to see Ken as the monster. Secondly, she makes it so that John is once more controlled by Simon, who uses John to stab the tech giant to death. John then requests that the entire system be shut down and he and his family ride off down the road.
There is a lot not to like about Gamer. Though it is set in 2034, which is only eleven years from now I might add, it holds up a grim mirror to modern society. While I hope and pray that we do not end up like this, I do not think it is completely far-fetched that humanity could look at a game like Slayer and be comfortable with it. As Simon puts it, the people in it had their chance. As mentioned before, it is not solely prisoners in the game, but the poor and desperate. Granted, this last category of people are the ones that go into Society, but doing so makes them pawns (Brother later refers to them as slaves) to the rich and powerful, or the grotesque. This describes the person controlling Angie when she is in Society. He is a morbidly obese man who gets off on playing a woman and making her do and witness the most horrible things. And therein lies the problem with such games. I honestly cannot decide which would be worse if it were real: Slayer or Society. At least in Slayer the men and women in it have the hope of something beyond their predicament, slim as it may be. Society is just an orgy, allowing people to indulge their perverted whims via the anonymity of the internet. The solution, of course, is Jesus. Unfortunately, our society seems to be moving away from these kinds of answers, and more towards the kind that is permissive of these games. The movie offers a stark metaphor for what I am talking about when you see a person in Society dressed as a priest and holding balloons, only to run off camera just as quickly as he appears. Believing in God is hard compared to the instant gratification one gets from the type of games you see in the movie.
By no means do I recommend Gamer. In addition to being violent, it has many scenes of nudity that are not necessary. Taken together, they make for a difficult to watch. If you get past these aspects, it might make you even more worried for their direction of our future. My hope is that it spurs you to action, and that action is best done with God at the center.