Combustible Celluloid
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With: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Robert LuPone, Susanne C. Hanke, Linda Moran
Written by: Michael Haneke
Directed by: Michael Haneke
MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence and some language
Running Time: 107
Date: 10/20/2007

Funny Games (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Digging in the Hurt

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Haneke's excruciating new movie is a near shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film. As with that one, the point of this new English-language film is elusive. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as a well-to-do couple that travels with their young son (12 year-old Devon Gearhart) to their summer lake house. A couple of polite fellows (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) wearing white gloves appear on their doorstep and begin to torment them, holding them hostage and threatening them. Every so often characters look at or talk to the camera, and a "rewind" gimmick is used late in the film that's better seen than described. Some may see Funny Games as a deconstruction of violent torture movies, but to my eyes it doesn't deconstruct anything. Haneke is himself too steeped in the violence and torture to step back from it or begin a discourse on it. We in the audience may ask ourselves why we're sitting through this film, but Haneke doesn't seem to care. (For an alternate example, Brian De Palma makes sadistic films, and he embraces the sadism as part of his own dark side. Haneke doesn't admit the connection.) It's possible that Haneke may wish to say something about aggression and passivity, in which case, there's one scene in his Code Unknown (2001) that accomplishes this better than all of Funny Games. However, it goes without saying that Haneke is an exceptionally skilled filmmaker -- see the suspenseful Cache (2005) -- and his work here is breathtaking. If you loved Hostel and are in the market for an exceedingly, diabolically well made torture/horror film, you can't do much better than this. Watts also served as an executive producer. (The film is sometimes referred to as Funny Games U.S.)

DVD Details: For some reason, Warner Home Video's DVD looks a lot like something that might have been released in 1999. It has a pan-and-scan version on one side and a letterboxed version on the other, with no extras. (There are optional subtitles, and the pan-and-scan side comes with trailers.) I couldn't help thinking that this is some kind of sick joke, adhering with the movie's themes, but I'm afraid I didn't get it.

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