A Murder Mystery
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Kyle Chandler
Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
Genre: Comedy, Mystery
Running Time: 100 minutes
Synopsis: Jason Bateman and Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams team up in New Line Cinema's action comedy Game Night.
Bateman and McAdams star as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max's charismatic brother, Brooks, arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So, when Brooks gets kidnapped, it's all part of the game…right?
But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this 'game""nor Brooks"are what they seem to be. Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they've ever had…or, it's game over.
Release Date: February 22nd, 2018
About The Production
'Tonight, we're taking game night up a notch. You're not gonna know what's real and what's fake."
Max and his wife, Annie, and their four friends, are all set for a murder mystery party, courtesy of Max's brother, Brooks. Always looking to one-up his little bro, Brooks has promised the avid small-time gamers an epic night, far beyond their usual menu of charades, trivia and Pictionary. So, minutes later, when armed thugs break down the door and drag him away, bound and gagged, his guests are duly impressed by how realistic the fight seemed, how terrified Brooks had looked, and how menacing his assailants were. They can hardly believe it was all staged.
Maybe that's because it wasn't.
Or was it? Sharp, fast and unpredictable, Game Night" is a full-on comedy with a fresh approach: shot like an action thriller from the first punch to the last reveal, it aims to keep audiences not only laughing…but guessing. 'Some of our favorite films are ones that blend multiple genres, so that audiences go from a laugh to a gasp in a single scene," says Jonathan Goldstein, who directed 'Game Night" in tandem with longtime creative collaborator John Francis Daley.
'Comedy works best when you thwart expectations," he adds. 'The same is true of a good thriller. We wanted to lead viewers down a path where they think they've gotten ahead of us, then throw them a curve they didn't see coming."
Also, a laugh that leaps out from a dark and scary place can be all the sweeter. Toward that end, says John Francis Daley, 'It was important to keep the stakes elevated. We wanted genuine shock moments, and this allowed us a slightly more artful approach in the cinematography and design, the pacing, casting, and even the music."
'It's a real popcorn movie," states Jason Bateman, who stars as Max and also served as a producer on the film. 'There's a lot of action and nighttime intrigue and, of course, you've got the comedy all the way through which makes it fun. There's even a little romance."
Addressing the relatability of an evening that starts with promise and then goes horribly, hilariously off the rails, he concedes, 'I'm sure I've had my fair share of nights that have gone south. And I think all of us have had some experience getting together with friends and playing games. But it's the escalation that happens here, when it gets out of the house and into the streets, that kicks everything up to another level."
Bateman's producing partner, James Garavente, recalls their reaction to the initial pitch. 'We loved the cool concept; it really grabbed us. We knew the script was funny, and we felt it should be grounded and not look overtly like a comedy, so the question was only how to get this great mix. What John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein did, which was genius, was take it a step further with all these thriller tropes, and camera movements that heighten a sense of action and danger."
Producers John Davis and John Fox were equally inspired. 'It has a strong throughline and subtext, and it's about something interesting," says John Davis. 'There's emotion in the central relationships. But the most irresistible thing about the script was that there's so much physical comedy and so many balls in the air. As we go into the second and third acts everything escalates and you're not sure who's on first and who's on second. John and Jonathan M. Goldstein were so good at building that tension and keeping everything moving. It's great storytelling,"
As one mystery turns into another and nothing is guaranteed, Max, Annie and their friends are propelled through an insane night of dead ends and double-crosses, fight clubs and shootouts, all the while chasing and being chased, and facing danger that could be either real or imagined"or both.
The filmmakers credit a first-class ensemble cast with keeping the action seamless and the jokes on point. Starring opposite Jason Bateman is Rachel McAdams as Max's wife, Annie, an invaluable doubles player and a real sweetheart until she's backed into a corner, and Kyle Chandler is the enigmatic Brooks. Representing the other regular players are Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan as Ryan and his not-quite-date Sarah; while Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury are Kevin and Michelle, childhood sweethearts whose airtight bond is beginning to reveal its first stress fracture. Jesse Plemons is the strange and lonely next-door neighbor, Gary, who just wants to be included; while Danny Huston and Michael C. Hall provide the threats and muscle as shadowy, possibly underworld characters pursuing their own agendas.
'The directors deserve a lot of credit for bringing together a group of people who may have different styles but a like sense of humor," Jason Bateman offers. 'I think we were all beneficiaries of their good casting. There were no squeaky wheels. One of the big attractions of this project for me was just the notion of a big ensemble comedy, which is always fun to do, and it's easy to have chemistry with a group like this, where everyone is so talented and generous."
Having established the three couples at the outset, 'Game Night" sends them on divergent paths immediately after Brooks is hustled away to God-knows-where and lets the story follow their parallel"and occasionally intersecting"progress. Says John Francis Daley, 'We wanted to capture the frenzy inherent in murder mystery parties. Each of our couples is incredibly competitive, and there's no better way to portray that than splitting them up and intercutting their game-playing tactics. It allows us to focus on their dynamic as couples as well as their individual storylines."
It also encourages the comedic potential of mystery and miscommunication as certain pieces of the puzzle are discovered one by one but not necessarily shared. 'It's just a matter of comedy math," says screenwriter Mark Perez. 'The more funny people you have bumbling around the city, the more potential you have for problems, speed bumps and misunderstandings. Everyone likes rooting for a team. The more characters you have on the field of play, it keeps the movie going in different and interesting directions. In this case, it's a group of friends who care about each other enough to risk their lives for their game night partners."
At the same time, all this managed mayhem revolves around a solid base. The heart and soul of 'Game Night" can be found in the relationships that are introduced and then evolve throughout the action. Individuals find their strengths, their fears and motivations in double-time. Though played for laughs, their discoveries are no less meaningful.
'It was important for us that audiences could invest in each of our couples, and in keeping with the twists and turns one expects of a thriller it was vital for each of the central characters to have their own reveal at some point," John Francis Daley explains. 'Each of their stories involves growing up in some way, and there's no better catalyst for that than when you're enduring an extreme, life-or-death situation."
Life or death…as in: if Brooks is genuinely in trouble, and if Max and his friends can't figure out what's going on in time to save him, this is one game he can't afford to lose.
'Someone in this room is going to be taken and it's going to be up to you to find them. Whoever finds the victim wins the grand prize."
Max owns game night. Pick the contest, set the timer and watch him roll. It's what made him irresistible to Annie the night fate brought them together: two razor-sharp players joining forces to wipe out a bar full of trivia hopefuls who didn't know the meaning of the word cutthroat. Now married, they host a regular couples' night to hang with their like-minded friends, break out the scorecards and have some fun.
It's not just entertainment; it's the glue that keeps them together.
Describing their relationship, Rachel McAdams begins, 'It was love at first sight," prompting Jason Bateman to chime in, 'Actually, it was more like -first answer.'"
'Yes," Rachel McAdams agrees. 'First answer. What brought Max and Annie together was their competitive nature. That, and being able to finish each other's sentences and just enjoying the game. It didn't take them long to realize they were better as a team."
The actors previously worked together briefly in the 2009 crime drama 'State of Play," and welcomed the chance to share more screen time and to cut loose with a comedy"in a way Rachel McAdams fans haven't seen since she killed it in 'Wedding Crashers."
Says Jonathan Goldstein, 'They had only two days of rehearsals to build ten years of chemistry as a couple, but they quickly landed in a dynamic that felt buoyant and genuine. Max and Annie are deeply driven to win. If not handled correctly, that could be off-putting, but these two actors brought so much charm and warmth to the roles that it's easy to root for them. Their chemistry is undeniable."
'We had a lot of opportunities to play off each other, and I especially loved the physical comedy," says Rachel McAdams. 'There are some really great set pieces that made me laugh out loud when I first read them on the page and were even better in the execution. Getting in there and running around… it just never got old."
So, if Max and Annie are such a winning team, so perfectly matched, in love, and totally in sync, what else could they possibly need? How about a baby. One of the story's underlying themes is that Max and Annie are at a turning point in their lives, ostensibly trying to have a baby while privately grappling with their degree of readiness for such a big change. The first part of this dilemma leads them, early in the story, to a fertility doctor who gives Max some uncomfortable advice.
As unlikely as it initially seems, especially to Max, Annie and the doc float the theory that the source of his difficulty might have less to do with his sperm count than with… his brother.
Older, cooler, more successful and twice as competitive, Brooks has always been Max's nemesis. The one to beat. Always a point ahead. It doesn't matter that Max is now an adult, with a wife, a job, a home and a life most people would be proud of. When these two get together it's like adolescence never happened. They're kids again, trying to sink each other's battleship.
'Brothers are absolutely competitive," attests Kyle Chandler, who has two of his own. 'Plus, Max and Brooks are completely different people. Brooks is gregarious, very outgoing, a real risk taker with a come-what-may attitude. Max is much more structured and conservative. He has ideas about exactly what needs to be done, and how, and if things aren't done that way, he gets a little itchy."
A high-living entrepreneur who spends much of his time overseas, Brooks has recently returned to his hometown, rented a fabulous house in an upscale neighborhood, and, from Max's perspective, is now trying to horn in on Max's game night and Max's friends in his own over-the-top way. The resulting stress, Annie feels, is adversely affecting her husband's chances of becoming a dad. She's convinced the only way to solve the problem is to lay this sibling rivalry to rest, once and for all, by seriously besting Brooks at whatever game he has in mind.
Fans of Chandler's body of work, Daley and Goldstein selected him for the role because, Goldstein says, 'Brooks had to be not only handsome and charismatic but irresistibly likeable. We wanted audiences initially to wonder whether Max's insecurity about his older brother was all in his head, and Kyle's performance let us do that. Also, since he hasn't done much comedy, it allows audiences to discover how funny he can be."
Among the steady game night players is Max and Annie's old friend Ryan"along with whoever he happens to be dating at the moment. It's rarely the same girl twice, and it's not easy for the regulars to keep track because they all pretty much run to type: young, hot, Instagram models who don't have a clue about Clue, much less anything else.
Consequently, 'He loses every game. Every single time. But doesn't care, so long as he scores afterwards," claims Billy Magnussen, who stars as Ryan.
But this time is different. On this particular game night, Brooks is putting up the grand prize, a vintage red Corvette Stingray, and that's enough to fire Ryan up for a win. To improve his chances, his surprisingly atypical partner of choice is Sarah, an executive at his company and British, to boot"which, in his mind, automatically elevates her IQ, not that she needs the help. Sarah is intelligent, pleasant, and shows up eager to match wits with the rest of them.
'She's brilliant, and Ryan is convinced that he's going to win this time because he's picked the perfect ringer," Billy Magnussen says.
Unaware of this fact, Sarah takes Ryan's invitation at face value, although, 'she's not entirely sure that this is a date," says Sharon Horgan, who stars as Sarah. 'She's not even sure she wants it to be a date. You don't really know what she thinks about him at the beginning of the story, but, as things progress, she realises that he is…."
'Awesome?" Billy Magnussen helpfully suggests.
'Not the sharpest tool in the box," Sharon Horgan counters. 'He's brave and gung-ho, which comes in handy when things get scary, but he's really easily distracted. The more time they spend together, the more relaxed they become around each other, which makes everything funnier because he winds her up and she finds it easier to just tell him to shut up."
'Come on, it's a beautiful non-romance that's unfolding," Billy Magnussen persists, demonstrating how their failure to see things the same way becomes a running joke in the story.
Another running joke centers around the conflict of a very different kind of couple: Kevin and Michelle, played by Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury. 'They've been together since Middle School. They're best friends, they know each other very well and share a lot of things like their sense of humor and a level of comfort that you only get with time and trust," Kylie Bunbury says.
In other words, they're that perpetually hand-holding, every-day-is-Valentines-Day, golden couple guaranteed to inspire a certain amount of eye rolling among even their best friends.
'Kevin and Michelle have been together for so long they just assumed they knew everything there was to know about each other," says Daley. But all that romantic history and wedded bliss turns suddenly toxic at Brooks' house with the first round of the drinking game Never Have I Ever. The challenge is, 'never have I ever slept with a celebrity," and Kevin deems his lady love's denial not quite fast enough, planting a seed of doubt in his mind that will grow throughout the evening. Her refusal to discuss the subject, and his pathological inability to let it go continues to simmer in the background despite whatever dire circumstances they find themselves in, lending another line of mystery"and humor"to the proceedings.
One way or another, Kylie Bunbury alludes, 'Secrets will be revealed."
'Sometimes you're faced with your ugly truth," says Morris. 'Some marriages are happy, but underlying that might be issues that people are either dealing with or not. And sometimes it might take a slap in the face"literally or metaphorically"to kind of wake you up to who your partner really is, and make you appreciate what you have."
'We liked the idea of a total shift in the power dynamic between Ryan and Sarah that takes place over the course of the night, and they captured it perfectly, and the growing tension between lovebirds Kevin and Michelle is so true to life," says Daley, which also speaks to the directors' larger casting strategy. 'Rather than shoehorn everyone into a particular style, we capitalized on their individual strengths. For example, Sharon Horgan's dry British tone played beautifully against Billy Magnussen's goofy exuberance. In the end, we were thrilled at how the group felt like real friends."
Rounding out the main cast, Chelsea Peretti appears as Glenda, one of the original Murder Mystery Players who appears 'dead" to the world as Ryan and Sarah swoop in on her for what they think is their big moment. Camille Chen appears as Max's Dr. Chin; and Zerrick Deion Williams and Joshua Mikel are Val and Colin, two scary thugs-for-hire, though it's anyone's guess who hired them.
'This is not a joke. People are in real danger."
Not technically a goon, but certainly far from a regular guy in this scenario is Gary, Max and Annie's neighbor with a too-convenient view of their front door. A cop who likes to wear his uniform to collect the mail or just hang around the house, Gary speaks in a highly formal monotone reminiscent of serial killer confessions, and always seems to be on the outside looking in.
Best known for a range of acclaimed dramatic roles, Jesse Plemons enjoyed the opportunity to make a rare comic turn as Gary, of whom he says, 'Gary is sort of in a completely different world from the rest of the characters. He used to be invited to game night because of his ex-wife, who everyone liked."
He's not likely to find his name on a guest list now, though, since the only remaining vestige of Gary's ex is the elaborate shrine he's built for her in his home office. 'He's just awkward, a bit of an over-sharer, and has a way of making everyone uncomfortable," Plemons adds. 'You see him and think, -Oh God, how do I make this as quick as possible so I can get away?'"
'Jesse was a perfect fit in that he's such a staggering presence and incredibly good with underplaying. He never once winks to the audience or betrays his character's motivation for a laugh. Keeping his performance grounded made it so much funnier; he gave us a cold, weird, and layered character that you can't help but feel for by the end of the film," states Daley.
Indeed, Gary's loneliness would likely incite more compassion, if he wasn't just so damn strange. So, hating themselves for it, Max and Annie go to great lengths to avoid the man, despite how obviously he'd like to be included in their circle again. But they're going to need him before this evening is over.
Meanwhile, ratcheting up the threat factor by 10 are Danny Huston as an obscenely wealthy and powerful man called Anderton, with some nasty hobbies; and Michael C. Hall as a volatile international crime lord known only as The Bulgarian. Sussing out their motives and possible connections to Brooks and each other is part of the problem"and part of the fun.
Huston approached Anderton as a straight-up bad guy and let the laughs come naturally. Although, he allows, 'The character has to be fundamentally real but there's a sense of delight in the dialogue and the way you can play with it." Without giving anything away, he describes his character as 'a rich guy with a lot of time on his hands and a taste for the eclectic, including a Fabergé egg, which is something of great value to him and becomes one of the clues to the story."
As for The Bulgarian, Hall cautions, 'Brooks' relationship with him, once you figure it out, could be the sign that Books has gotten in over his head in terms of some of the risks he's been taking and that, for him, The Bulgarian represents a bridge too far."
'Don't talk to the cops. I shot Max but he's fine."
The hunt for answers and for Brooks' kidnappers sends Max and Annie, Ryan and Sarah, and Kevin and Michelle to places in their city they've never seen before: from a dive bar in a super-sketchy neighborhood, to a secret fight club in a gated mansion, to the belly of a Gulfstream G3 on a private runway.
'Game Night" was filmed largely on location in and around Atlanta, Georgia. In keeping with the directors' tone, locations and sets were staged, lit and shot in a noir palette: dark streets, high contrast, the kind of night where light seems to exist only to cast more shadows. Likewise, they chose Grammy-nominated composer Cliff Martinez, a frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator whose film scores tend toward the more dramatic, to imbue the action with a modern, synth-centric blend of fun and menace.
'In a good noir film, the protagonist is always a little bit behind and a little bit off balance," says production designer Michael Corenblith. A fine example of that occurs in one of the film's early scenes, when the game has truly begun. Max and Annie, the first couple out of the gate after Brooks is dragged off, track the kidnappers to a gritty bar on a desolate street, patterned after an Atlanta watering hole called The Northside Tavern, that Corenblith introduced to Daley and Goldstein. 'They fell in love with the way it looked," he recalls, 'it had the right feel and character, but none of the relationships between the bar to the door, or the bar to the back room, worked the way they imagined it. One of the crucial elements to telling this story is what is concealed and what is revealed, and they were very specific and precise about all the sight lines. Annie is the audience's surrogate here, so they can only see what she sees."
Corenblith solved the problem by recreating the bar's interior on a soundstage.
One of the designer's favorite sets was Gary's house, and the scene in which Gary's only companion, Sebastian, a snow-white West Highland terrier, is accidentally drizzled with Max's blood and reacts accordingly. 'I had done the pilot for the TV series -Dexter,' so I had learned a thing or two about blood," he says. 'That set was great fun because of the way it showcases the comic reality of Gary's shrine to his ex-wife, and how it then becomes a canvas for a sort of Jackson Pollock blood splatter."
Sebastian was played by a Westie named Sophie, along with her four canine doubles. The animals' hair was treated to prevent the non-toxic, corn syrup-based red mixture from soaking in and turning them all pink.
At one point, Max and Annie find themselves in league with the other couples as the six of them together converge on the site they believe holds the key to Brooks' freedom: a stolen Fabergé egg. It's a formidable mansion, festively lit for a party, and the gang slides in amongst the well-dressed crowd. Once inside, they discover that these wealthy and refined guests have come to bet on an illegal fight between two bare-knuckled, shirtless gladiators. The exhibition gives them an opportunity to case the joint in search of the egg"that is, until the mansion's owner, Mr Anderton, pretty much catches Ryan with his hand in the safe and sics his brawlers on the bunch of them.
This leads to the show stopping set piece known as the egg toss. A brilliant fusion of stunt choreography, architecture, and the comic timing of a half dozen actors, it follows Max, Annie, Ryan, Sarah, Kevin and Michelle through Anderton's house as they attempt to abscond with their prize while Anderton and his soldiers try to cut them off at every turn. As soon as one determined bruiser gets close, the egg is thrown to someone momentarily in the clear.
'We wanted to include an extended, continuous shot in the film, and the egg toss gave us the perfect opportunity to execute this," Goldstein outlines. 'We chose the house partly because it offered lots of interior balconies, stairways and levels where we could choreograph the sequence. It took several days to figure out all the moves and then a day and a half to shoot what would become a 90-second scene. We had to cut a gap in a railing to move the camera through it. At one point, we had two camera assistants and our cinematographer standing on a ladder so they could pass the camera up to the second floor where Rachel was standing."
In addition to the house that became the Anderton residence, the production used other practical locations, including a runway at Cartersville Airport, an hour outside of Atlanta, and Peter's Bridge in the Castleberry Hill section, near downtown, both for sites of tense showdowns. Local homes were also put into service as Brooks' rental and Max and Annie's house, with the intention of using them to visually underscore the brothers' ongoing rivalry: i.e., Brooks' is bigger.
In broad strokes, Corenblith says, the vibe for Max and Annie's home was 'comfortable and conventional, friendly and cozy, because this is the sibling who has fallen into a kind of suburban life. By contrast, Brooks' place is something so off-the-charts and so different in its scale, textures, and lines that it's emblematic of all the things causing Max to feel anxious and inferior."
At the same time, by employing symmetry in the interior design, in the cabinetry and various shapes and utilities, the houses mirror each other in many ways, as if to suggest that the superficial details aren't really that different or important. If Max had made the same choices along the way, this might very well be his house. But does it really matter? It's all about how you want to play the game.
Maybe it's time for Max to step outside of his brother's shadow.
Ultimately, says John Francis Daley, 'The dynamic between Max and Brooks is there to shine a light on the life-changing issue that Max and Annie are facing from the beginning of the story, and that is, whether or not they're ready to become parents. There's something positive and refreshing in seeing a couple that truly loves each other and works as a team from the outset."
And always plays to win!
'We set out to make a movie with a lot of surprises," John Francis Daley continues. 'We want it to be a ride for audiences from start to finish, one that will make them laugh, gasp, and maybe even reflect a little."
'We hope people will enjoy watching it as much as we did making it," Jonathan M. Goldstein concludes. 'Minus the sleep deprivation and stress headaches."
Release Date: February 22nd, 2018