March 19, 2008

REVIEW: Funny Games (C-)

Background: Fresh off of the critical success of his disturbing (dare the critics say Hitchcockian) thriller Cache, German director Michael Haneke has remade his 1997 film Funny Games shot-for-shot, this time for an American audience. With the original film (unseen by me) being a direct commentary on America’s obsession with movie violence, why not make a few more bucks by bringing the finger-pointing closer to the accused ? While the idea of adapting a foreign language film for Hollywood is increasingly common, the only scene-for-scene remake of a film that I can think of is Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (1998), which was a failure across the board. As for Funny Games, it is Haneke’s first English-language film and was executively produced by its leading actress, Naomi Watts. The trailer, which is both brilliant and intentionally misleading, sees a family (with Watts joined by the eccentric character actor Tim Roth and newcomer Devon Gearhart) being taken hostage by two creepy twenty-somethings, as played by Michael Hart (The Dreamers) and Brady Corbet (Thirteen).

Synopsis: The movie opens with the happy family passing the time in their car by playing guess-the-composer. The classical music transitions into loud heavy metal foreshadowing that their happy vacation will soon take a violent turn. On their way to their cabin they have a quick, awkward meeting with their friends, who are joined by two unknown visitors. As they get settled into their vacation they are visited by the two young men, who are obviously not as well-intentioned as they make themselves out to be. Under the guise of an attempt to borrow some eggs the situation quickly evolves into a hostage situation. After it is revealed that the two men have killed the family dog (which was disturbingly realistic), it’s pretty clear that this won’t be your standard good-guys-win thriller. They then play a series of games with the victims, mostly involving how and when they will die. In between a few near-escapes Hart starts to talk to the audience, and at one point literally rewinds the action. By its conclusion we are supposed to feel complicit in the torture of the main characters, and feel bad that we are so easily amused by the unrealistic violence and easy resolutions of the average American film.

I Loved:
+ Even after suffering unspeakable horrors to your family and with your death a certainty, you’ll still do whatever it takes to turn off NASCAR.

I Liked:
+ The acting is all top-notch. Watts
proves once again that no one is better at playing the woman-in-peril. Hart steals the show as the talkative and playful psychopath. Corbet, Roth and most notably Gearhart all perform admirably in creating a feeling of constant dread.
+ Often times when someone skewers the ultra-violence of American movies they end up wallowing in the same blood and gore that they are attempting to implicate. Haneke at least has the confidence to keep his violence off-screen, thus sharpening his tired thesis.
+ As in Cache, the director is brilliant at building the suspense. The fact that at the end he tells us that we are all stupid for being reeled in seems to insult his own style more than our bloodlust.

I Disliked:
- The frequent long takes. I understand the point of showing a five-minute scene of Naomi Watts struggling to stand up, but it’s not effective in doing anything but showing the filmmaker’s contempt for the audience.

I Hated:
- The cheap trick of having Hart engage the audience (and the late scene with the remote control) is supposed to be a clever way of turning us into accomplices. But it comes off as lazy and self-indulgent.
- Haneke constantly reminding us how much smarter he is than anyone with a $9.00 ticket in their back pocket.
- People have been making this point for years. The message might have resonated back in 1997 (even then it was predated by Natural Born Killers), but now it just seems old.

Writing - 7
Acting - 8
Production – 9
Emotional Impact - 5
Music - 4
Significance - 2

Total: 35/50= 70% = C-

Last Word: Earlier I pointed out that the trailer was brilliant, a response which in itself makes me guilty of the film’s accusations. In it we see a charismatic psychopath cryptically talking about the “importance of entertainment” with words such as daring and magnificent flashing on-screen. I didn’t know anything about the original, and I’ll just come out with it, it looked “cool.” Well that just makes me one of the masses who unknowingly eats up the unrealistic filth that Hollywood
churns out on a daily basis. Or at least that’s what this pretentious and crafty argument against torture porn would have you believe. In actuality it’s just as manipulative and insulting as the genre it condemns. Just because the director is self-aware enough to throw in a few winks doesn’t change the fact that he uses the same tricks as the accused. I won’t for one second sit here and argue the existence of Saw or Hostel, but there are plenty of American films that use violence and unrealistic resolution as a welcome escape from reality, the whole point of going to the movies. Even if you disagree with that statement and think that American entertainment is vile trash, this movie has a dated message and is contradictory in its execution.


  1. *sits back and sighs in relief*

    So glad I skipped out on this and left you guys to suffer through it.

    I can only think of Psycho, too. I have no problem with remakes as long as they're as good as or better than the original. However, some should be left alone (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a recent nightmare), and I don't know what a shot-for-shot really adds to anything.

    "Watts proves once again that no one is better at playing the woman-in-peril."

    Am I right, or am I right? No one is typecast for this like she is, and it's just when I was getting off my high horse about it. She's talented, no doubt. Let's just tone down the crying and screaming a bit.

    "As in Cache, the director is brilliant at building the suspense. "

    I know Cache has its detractors, but I thought it was pretty engrossing. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't feel entirely manipulated, just confused and curious. Sounds like this was totally different, and I haven't seen any of his other films.

    "Just because the director is self-aware enough to throw in a few winks doesn’t change the fact that he uses the same tricks as the accused."

    Everything I've read about this says the same - his message is lost, if there was one to begin with. In any case, he's getting people to talk and build buzz about it, probably assuring a healthy DVD life for years. Maybe that's the real trick he's pulled off.

  2. I, too, really enjoyed Cache - this one was different. Like you did, Daniel, I hated the 4th wall breaking and the rewind scene. Those instances alone are what have led me to my intense dislike of the film. I think his diatribe would have been much more effective without all the *wink wink* *nudge nudge* business, although I recognize that those elements were kind of the point (for him, at least).

  3. Whoops, sorry Evan - just to clarify, I actually didn't even see this one. My friend Matt (mnraul) sneaks in every now and then to post on here. So far he's reviewed this and Rambo(F), but his taste isn't that bad - he's seen most everything I have and a lot more on DVD. (Everybody say nice things so he posts more often...)

  4. Yah, I was initially confused by your above comment (is he commenting on his own post? are there 2 Daniels?), but after more careful investigation, I figured it out.

  5. Hehe, just one of me, but I'm not above being the first to comment on my own post...

  6. "Even after suffering unspeakable horrors to your family and with your death a certainty, you’ll still do whatever it takes to turn off NASCAR"

    Ahahahha...good one Matt.

    I agree that the trailer is brilliant and I think there was a brilliant movie to be made here...all the more frustrating that this wasn't it.

  7. I was almost out the door headed to my local theater Friday night to check this one out, when I decided to see what others had to say about it. Not seeing too many flattering reviews, I decided it was a future dvd rental at best.

    And wasn't it Michael Pitt not Hart?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. It is Michael Pitt. I have no idea why I kept referring to him as Hart. And also, me and Tom (teeblah) were talking about this tonight, and figured out that with the original movie being released in 1997, Saw and Hostel are off-limits, so what movie (or movies?) is he commenting on ? Discuss.

  10. "what movie (or movies?) is he commenting on ?"

    By that I assume you mean the "message" that he's trying to convey in this. Well obviously I can't talk about that, but your point about Saw and Hostel is true. Maybe he realized that all of these recent movies are just copying his original work, so he remade this to show everybody what's what. Of course, that doesn't explain what pre-1997 movies he was analyzing. I really don't know. A related question I now have is, what was the first torture-porn of the new generation? Was it Saw?

  11. I have never wanted to see this, or the original ~ still don't.

    I never saw Cache either.


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