Reindeer Games (2000): A Review

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Pho­to Cred­it: Alana Sise

If the film Rein­deer Games doesn’t ring a bell – a Christ­mas bell – it’s not sur­pris­ing. This isn’t the kind of film that would inspire fes­tive feel­ings, but it is a film that just might sur­prise you.


It’s six days to Christ­mas and three days to free­dom for prison cell­mates Rudy (Ben Affleck) and Nick (James Frain). For­mer auto-mechan­ic Rudy is look­ing for­ward to eat­ing apple pie and drink­ing hot choco­late; for­mer casi­no-guard Nick has big­ger plans: “I’m gonna walk out­ta here. I’m gonna walk right into a rela­tion­ship.” Dur­ing his time in prison, he has become a pen pal with a woman called Ash­ley (Char­l­ize Theron) – and fall­en in love with her lines and pic­tures. Over his last prison meal, Nick fan­ta­sizes about Ashley’s broth­er, a truck dri­ver, find­ing him a job.

Walk­ing into free­dom with­out Nick (no spoil­er), Rudy rec­og­nizes the woman from the pic­tures his friend had taped all over his cell. Remem­ber­ing the love­ly lines Nick shared from her let­ters, Rudy approach­es her with an awk­ward smile, utter­ing the li(n)e: “I’m Nick!” Need­less to say, Rudy’s first days in free­dom are beau­ti­ful; how­ev­er, soon he comes to the remorse­ful real­iza­tion that a guilty con­science isn’t the only down­side to the deci­sion he has made – because it turns out that Nick was right and Ashley’s broth­er Gabriel (Gary Sinise) has a “job” for him indeed …

In a 2007 inter­view, Char­l­ize Theron said Rein­deer Games was the worst film she’s ever par­tic­i­pat­ed in. Reviews and over­all recep­tion seem to cor­re­spond to her assess­ment. Nev­er­the­less, I want to make a case for this unusu­al R‑rated “Christ­mas movie” direct­ed by John Franken­heimer, usu­al­ly known for more sophis­ti­cat­ed work. This one is not intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing and may have its glitch­es in log­ic, but it’s sus­pense­ful, enter­tain­ing, and con­tains a num­ber of plot twists you most like­ly won’t see coming.

One shouldn’t expect this some­what bru­tal action film to evoke a cheer­ful Christ­mas mood. Typ­i­cal Christ­mas ele­ments, such as music, dec­o­ra­tion, and cos­tumes, seem rather con­tra­dic­to­ry to the film’s mood and set­ting and cre­ate some­thing of an inter­est­ing para­dox­i­cal feeling.

Take a look at the trail­er but keep in mind that it is as mis­lead­ing and ran­dom as the title itself. The title for the Ger­man mar­ket, Wild Christ­mas, and the alter­na­tive Eng­lish title, Decep­tion, seem more fitting.

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If you don’t like this film, there is always It’s a Won­der­ful Life. Now that one is a tru­ly heart-warm­ing Amer­i­can clas­sic men­tioned in “The Ulti­mate Christ­mas Movie Playlist”.





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