Holiday Movie Month: "Reindeer Games" Review

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After assuming his dead cellmate's identity to get with his girlfriend, an ex-con finds himself the reluctant participant in a casino heist.
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Holiday Movie Month: "Reindeer Games" Review

Rating: R (strong violence, language, sexuality)
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: February 25, 2000
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Genre: Action/Thriller/Drama/Crime

Plenty of movies, including action movies, have taken place during the Christmas season. "Die Hard 2," for example, uses the holidays to place a number of innocents in the line of danger, and other films have followed its lead. Few action movies, however, use Christmas as anything more than an excuse to get characters together or a way to make the ending a bit more touching. In 2000, John Frankenheimer decided to make Christmas an integral part of the plot of his final film, "Reindeer Games."

Rudy Duncan, played by Ben Affleck, shares a cell with a fellow prisoner who has been corresponding with a woman named Ashley. After his cellmate is killed and Duncan is released, Rudy decides to pretend to be Nick in order to be with Ashley. However, this entanglement leads to Duncan being forced to take part in a casino heist, which promises to net the robbers a considerable sum of money. Although he is somewhat reluctant to participate, Duncan chooses to become a full member of the team.

Using knowledge learned from his cellmate while in prison, Duncan devises a scheme, but it is interrupted by security guards in a scene that features multiple Santa Claus shootings. The casino manager recognizes that Duncan is not who he claims to be, but Duncan is spared for the moment. When the casino manager fights back, Duncan joins his side but is captured by Gabriel, the ringleader of the operation. More plot twists follow, leading to an action-packed conclusion.

"Reindeer Games" features a plot that is sure to please fans of the action and thriller genres, and its twists come as real surprises. At several points in the film, viewers believe that they finally understand the truth, but each new twist adds even more depth to the story. While many action films seem content to get the plot out of the way as quickly as possible and get to the shooting and explosions, "Reindeer Games" gives fans of complicated but believable plots much to enjoy.

Many action films explain the plot in a simplistic, stilted manner, but this flaw is largely absent in "Reindeer Games." It is clear that the writers of "Reindeer Games" paid close attention to the dialogue to ensure that it is fun to listen to. A bit of cleverness can go a long way toward making a film's exposition interesting, and sharp dialogue is one of the strong points of "Reindeer Games."

The movie also has a satisfying, if ambiguous, take on morality. Duncan is no hero, and his exploits show him as a character of dubious morality. He has a keen instinct for staying alive, and he's willing to take extreme steps to ensure his safety. Despite this, he is quick to help the casino manager when the opportunity arises even though the manager revealed his identity. However, Duncan shows no remorse when dispatching his enemies, and his attempted scheming sets him up for his own deception. Despite this, he is ultimately revealed to possess the Christmas spirit when he gives away the cash instead of keeping it.

The film is bolstered by top-notch acting. Ben Affleck stands out in particular. Affleck is widely considered to be one of Hollywood's strongest actors today, but his acting chops were regularly questioned when "Reindeer Games" was released. Although he has certainly improved over the years, his performance in "Reindeer Games" showed that he was capable of playing a credible lead character in an action film and capturing the interest of viewers.

While few will complain about a lack of Christmas-themed action films, the extended holiday season leaves plenty of room for watching a wide range of movies. "Reindeer Games" is not a meditative consideration of the true meaning of Christmas, but the Christmas motif runs deep. The depth and complexity of the plot compared to most Christmas movies makes it an interesting film, and those who find themselves in need of explosions and great action will find the film to be a welcome departure from standard Christmas fare.

Rating: 3 out of 5