Funny Games Review

by [email protected] (dnb AT dca DOT net)
March 10th, 2008

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2008 David N. Butterworth

*** (out of ****)

    Michael Haneke's Americanized "Funny Games" is a cool, calculated exercise in serious discomfort. Unfortunately that's all it is; there's no point to it; it's just unpleasantness for unpleasantness' sake. Nobody learns anything. Nobody grows. Nobody comes away from the experience wiser or braver or happier, just deader.

    The film, a scene-by-scene remake of the Austrian writer/director's 1997 foreign language film of the same name, is competently made and keenly acted, especially by Naomi Watts (who serves as one of the film's executive producers). Tim Roth seems an odd choice for the role of her husband, however, as he spends much of the film nursing a broken kneecap with few opportunities to shine. But Watts' Anna more than makes up for the limitations that beset Roth's George, doing an admirable job in the face of abject humiliation and egregious suffering.

    Anna, George, and their 10-year-old son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are driving to their weekend retreat. They're towing a sailboat behind them so that, presumably, we can be reminded of Polanski's "Knife in the Water" (a psycho terrorizes a married couple aboard their yacht; it also inspired the Australian oceangoing thriller "Dead Calm").

    The couple plans to play golf and take it easy; neighbors of theirs claim to be "grilling every night." What could be more relaxing? Oh, and they've also brought along their golden retriever Lucky. Only Lucky isn't. (If you, like me, guess that the dog's the first one to buy it then you've seen way too many of these films for your own good.) A friend of Anna's golfing buddy first unhinges Lucky. Perhaps it's Paul's tennis whites, or his white gloves, that unnerve the pooch. Regardless, Lucky's barks are quickly silenced.

    But before that, Peter, a similarly attired friend of Paul's, pays Anna a call to borrow some eggs--four of them. But he drops them. Then he clumsily knocks Anna's cell phone into the sink. And then Lucky jumps on him (off camera) and he needs more eggs. It's a bizarre series of occurrences and exchanges, mostly shot as long takes with a fixed camera. This technique of Haneke's certainly serves to heighten the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness later in the film. When Anna finally asks the young men to leave they won't. Enter George, center stage. He can't seem to get them to leave either. They keep insisting, in an impossibly polite way that will soon become their trademark, that they don't understand why Anna has turned on them like this, what they might have done to upset her. George winds up in an altercation with Paul, provoking damage to the afore-mentioned kneecap. And from there things go from bad to worse to truly terrifying.

    The only thing louder than the metal thrash on the soundtrack is the sound of the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats (several actually left). As the obsequiously well-mannered psychopaths, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet) make Hannibal Lecter look like a desirable dinner guest.

    "Funny Games" is neither funny ha ha nor funny peculiar. It's funny... NOT!

David N. Butterworth
[email protected]

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