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Gamechangers, The

D: Owen Harris / 90m

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Bill Paxton, Joe Dempsie, Mark Weinman, Ian Keir Attard, Fiona Ramsay, Shannon Esra, Garion Dowds, Thabo Rametsi, Gideon Lombard

Following the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, eighteen-year-old Devin Moore (Rametsi) is arrested for stealing a car. At the police station, he disarms an officer and shoots him dead. He kills two more officers before escaping in a police car. When he’s apprehended, a link emerges between his actions and Vice City: Moore has copied one of the scenarios in the game. This claims the attention of Florida lawyer Jack Thompson (Paxton), a fiercely moralistic man who feels that the makers of the game are complicit in Moore’s crimes. He travels to Alabama in order to represent the victims’ families in a civil suit against the makers, Rockstar Games.

Meanwhile, Sam Houser (Radcliffe), the British-born co-founder and president of Rockstar Games, has decided that their next release will be bigger, better and more realistic. Always looking to improve both the content and the format of their games, Houser pushes for a sex scene to be included in their next Grand Theft Auto release, even though his closest colleagues, including his brother Dan (Attard), and fixer Jamie King (Dempsie), aren’t convinced it’s a good idea. When Houser learns of Thompson’s civil suit he rails against the notion that Rockstar is any way responsible for Moore’s actions. While Thompson looks for evidence to support his assertion that violent video games can influence people into behaving violently themselves, Rockstar hires a firm of corporate lawyers to represent them. But Thompson’s enthusiasm for the case proves to be its downfall, and the judge throws it out.

Rockstar press ahead with the release of their next instalment, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but the inclusion of the sex scene proves problematical: if it’s included it will seriously effect the game’s potential sales. Houser bows to pressure from his close colleagues and orders the scene removed. The game is released and is a huge success, but a short time after, a modder (a person who modifies existing software or hardware) in Holland, Patrick Wildenborg (Lombard), finds the code for the sex scene hidden within the game. He renders the code into rudimentary animation and posts it on YouTube. When the post goes viral, and Rockstar are charged with misleading both their customers and the body that regulates the video game industry, it leads to a federal investigation, and gives Thompson a second chance to make Rockstar and other video game makers accountable for the content of their games.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 08/09/2015 - Programme Name: The Gamechangers - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Terry Donovan (MARK WEINMAN), Sam Houser (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) - (C) BBC Scotland © 2015; Moonlighting NNN Productions (Pty) Limited: African Photographic C.C. - Photographer: Joe Alblas

Made for TV by the BBC, The Gamechangers sets out its stall right from the outset by stating that while it’s based on real events, scenes have been altered for dramatic effect. But while this seems entirely laudable, what it actually does is to make the viewer unsure if what they’re seeing is either next door to the truth or living in the next town. Certainly, Rockstar has disavowed the movie for containing a number of inaccuracies, and there are several moments where the likelihood of James Wood’s script being as factual as it should be are easily questioned, but what hurts the movie more than all this is the unfortunate way in which it takes the idea of violent video games causing impressionable game players to act out those violent fantasies, and does nothing with it.

What we’re left with is Thompson’s principled railings against the “filth” he sees in the games tempered with Houser’s insistence that they’re in no way to blame for Moore’s behaviour, and these confident outbursts are repeated over and over, as if the viewer would be unable to work out either hypothesis for themselves. Add a number of scenes designed to show both men’s commitment to their individual causes, and how their single-mindedness affects the people around them, the movie becomes less about issues of violence and more about what drives both Thompson and Houser to be so committed in their respective arenas. Alas, this isn’t as interesting or engaging as the movie thinks it is, and gives both Radcliffe and Paxton little room to provide well-rounded portrayals, or make much of the repetitive dialogue.

With the movie lacking focus, any drama feels either overdone or forced, particularly in the relationship between Houser and King, which becomes increasingly adversarial as the movie progresses, but seems based purely around King’s lack of time off. Harris seems unable to overcome these problems, and many scenes seem designed to pad out the running time, whether it’s another example of Houser’s dismissive attitude towards his staff, or Thompson’s unresolved anger at not being able to find the justice he’s seeking. By the time the viewer learns how the federal investigation pans out, and the result of an investigation into Thompson’s competence as a lawyer is revealed, the flatness of the drama is too apparent to make it compelling.

As a result, the performances range from the pedestrian to the merely satisfactory, with Radcliffe and Paxton both stranded by the script, and the supporting cast left to fend for themselves. Only Rametsi impresses, making Moore a blank-faced killer with no real conception of whether he’s living in the real world or the confines of a video game (Moore is still on Death Row awaiting execution by lethal injection). And despite occasional attempts to make the visuals more interesting, Gustav Danielsson’s cinematography is mostly perfunctory and uninspired, leaving no room for the movie to impress in other areas. There’s a decent movie to be made out of the events that followed Moore’s kill-spree, but this isn’t it.

Rating: 4/10 – an opportunity that’s been missed by a very wide margin indeed, The Gamechangers challenges the audience’s patience throughout, and never settles on which story it really wants to tell, Houser’s or Thompson’s; blandly made, and with an awkwardness that never resolves itself, potential viewers should lower their expectations before they start watching.