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FUNNY GAMES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart
Director: Michael Haneke
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2008

ďWhy donít you just kill us?Ē

ďYou shouldnít forget the importance of entertainment.Ē

Film ***1/2

There are certain films that one should be entirely prepared for prior to viewing. By that I mean films of an excessive dark nature, the kind that are usually hard to shake from your mind long after you see it. Funny Games, a title that shouldnít be taken literally, is perhaps the best example of such a movie.

What we have here is a film with the appearance of a traditional cinematic thriller, only to pull the rug out from under us mid way through. From that point on, thereís a sense of dread that only escalates until the final frame. When the movie is over, what we our left with is a monumental punch to the stomach.

I should probably point out that the film is actually a shot by shot remake of a German film from 1997. Writer/director Michael Haneke has taken his film and pretty much used it as a direct template for this American version. And while this may sound like some cheap experimental gimmick, Haneke has converted his film into English for a reason.

As the movie opens, we see a happy middle class family taking a trip to their summer vacation home. Anna (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth), along with their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are looking forward to enjoying some quality family time in their home by the lake. Itís important in noting this, mainly because itís basically the only happy spot in the entire film.

They arrive and settle in immediately. While the husband and son are settling the family boat in the lake, Anna gets an unexpected knock at the door. Sheís greeted by two young men, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), who kindly ask to borrow some eggs.

The film plays out with a dual personality. On the one hand, itís a thriller involving a family being brutally terrorized by a pair of well-dressed psychopaths. In that respect, the movie sounds like the sort of typical thriller weíve seen countless times before.

But then, Haneke reveals the true nature of the film, which is making something of a bold statement. By breaking down the fourth wall, in a surprisingly subtle form, the movie makes the viewer somewhat guilty for watching it. Haneke is clearly stating that audiences who go to see mainstream thrillers enjoy watching acts of violence and terror, and heís made that statement by essentially crafting a film that is excessively unpleasant.

Thus, we the viewers have become voyeurs in the worst possible way. The way Haneke applies an element of voyeurism to his thrillers is both unique and quite unsettling. If you were fortunate enough to see his 2005 film Cache, you should have a pretty good idea of what youíre getting into here.

However, in spite of technique Haneke uses to get his point across, I canít stress enough how brutal the film really is. I had never seen the original German version, so in terms of violence I had no idea what to expect. I donít care how un-squeamish you claim to be (I always think Iím not when it comes to movie violence), you will be most shocked by what this film manages to pull off. Most of what happens isnít exactly graphic, but rather it leaves a bit to the imagination, which sometimes is all the more frightening.

And as for the performances, they are all mind blowing to the point that you have to appreciate the actors surviving the filming itself. Naomi Watts is one of our most gifted actresses working right now, and her performance here left me speechless. Though sheís playing a sort of character weíve seen countless times before in thrillers, that of the physically and emotionally abused victim, Iíve never seen an actress strike me the way Watts does in scenes like where she begs to the killers for her life. And when you consider the fact that Ms. Watts has been terrorized before in movies like The Ring and King Kong, her performance is even more astounding.

Of course I canít forget mentioning Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as the home-invading psychopaths. Both actors are astonishing in the way they make their crazed characters increasingly repulsive in something of a fresh way. Both actors do deliver a certain level of menace that you will feel even hard to shake after the movie is over.

As far as recommending movies is concerned, Funny Games is one of the most difficult cases Iíve ever had has a reviewer. Itís definitely not for the squeamish, and yet even those who donít object to conventional movie violence might find the movie just as difficult to endure. However, those wanting a challenging film experience and think they can stomach some pure brutality should play along indeed.

Video ***1/2

A most terrific and effective anamorphic presentation from Warner (Full Screen version is also included). For the most part, the film boasts a bright picture, which mostly comes from its mostly daytime setting. Itís a film with a single setting, but light is definitely the case even indoors. Thereís a hint of grain in some areas (the double-sided format may have something to do with that), but itís hardly distracting.

Audio ***

Usually with a thriller, you expect to get a thrilling and thunderous sound presentation. However, this is a dialogue-oriented piece with hardly any music cues. In this 5.1 mix, we do get a unique combination of music in the opening and closing credits, which Iíll leave for you to see since they help in delivering the impact. The dialogue delivery is absolutely top-notch, especially the sounds of the screaming victims.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing but a few previews that play before the menu appears.

Summary:

Funny Games belongs on a short list of films I admire tremendously, yet are difficult to want to experience again. But thatís a testament to the unique impact of Michael Hanekeís film. It set out to do something specific, and it struck me in that very specific manner. I canít stress these three words enough; watch with caution.

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