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In this English-language remake of a deconstruction in the way violence is portrayed in the media, a family settles into its vacation home, which happens to be the next stop for a pair of young, articulate, white-gloved serial killers on an excursion through the neighborhood. Written by
Self-awareness and a minor flaw in the message do not detract from powerhouse performances and excellent direction
First things first, I have not seen the Michael Haneke's original 1997 Funny Games, however, according to every reviewer, I do not need to (I'm still going to, though). Apparently this American version of Funny Games is a shot-for-shot remake of the original, but with different actors and in English. Also, before seeing this (a year late, as us Australians get most films later) I had read plenty of articles and reviews detailing how dark, powerful and disturbing Haneke's film was. Well, they were damn right. This is a brutal and abrupt film, with no happy endings in sight throughout the majority of the film.
Beginning with a wealthy family: George (Tim Roth), wife Ann (Naomi Watts) and Georgie (Devon Gearhart), driving to their holiday home by a lake. Upon arrival a young boy, Peter (Brady Corbet), knocks on their door asking for eggs. A simple task turns into something a bit more complicated, which frustrates Ann and causes her to ask him to leave. However, Paul (Michael Pitt) also enters the scene. Soon the situation loses control as the family as held hostage by the two sociopaths and subjected to cruel and sadistic games.
This seemingly overdone home-invasion scenario is the set-up for Haneke's hard-hitting social commentary (and the reason he remade the film for American audiences). Violence is present everywhere in society, through books, games, films, television and music. Although I do enjoy violent films and games, it is not hard to see the public are slowly becoming desensitized to violence. Sometimes we may not even notice what we are watching or reading is violent (the news, the papers and even cartoon shows aimed at children). This is the film's target, and this is why Haneke remade it for the U.S., as he believes that this is mostly an American culture. Unfortunately, there is a flaw present in this way of thinking. I believe most people know that when they are watching something like "Hostel" or "Die Hard 4.0" it is all fake, all special effects and it is only there as a form of escapism from one's life. It is interesting to note that this film is not that bloody, with almost all of the violence occurring off-screen, the camera focusing on the witnesses reactions instead. Funnily enough, this annoyed a few reviewers on this site, which kind of proves the director's point. We are hungry for violence in our films, we want to see it all.
"You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment." States Peter when Ann asks them to kill them so the pain can end. The director turns film conventions on their head, as Paul breaks the fourth wall and addresses us, asking us questions. (In this way the film is somewhat pretentious and self-aware, Haneke kind of knows he is making an arty film and it is slightly annoying). Paul knows almost everyone is rooting for the family to survive, for some miraculous way out for them. However, Haneke knows that more often than not, the cavalry never come and the bad guys usually do win.
Upon pointing out Haneke's fault, the man can direct with incredible style. The egg scene is an interesting one, as almost nothing happens, yet he constantly increases the tension every second. And that is just the beginning. There are numerous tracking shots, which add to the atmosphere and frustration. In an eight minute scene, we witness Ann trying to escape her bonds and through this silent scene we feel her anguish and it works very well. However, the direction is supported by some of the strongest performances by an entire cast I have seen all year. Naomi Watts is an incredible actress and her performance as the polite housewife turned heroine is riveting. She goes through a heap of crap throughout the movie and she is convincing 100% of the time. Tim Roth is excellent support, his father (who is crippled at the start of the games) is a tragic character. Usually the father character is the macho hero, but here he is a broken man and Roth portrays this with perfection. Michael Pitt is eerie, charming and sadistic as well-spoken Paul, he is the 21st century Alex (from Stanely Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"). I am confident he will be a big star in the future. Brady Corbet is more timid, but equally menacing as Peter, the seemingly simpler, but more erratic and violent one. He puts forward an interesting and breakthrough turn and as mentioned before, should be a star to look out for.
Although I will probably not revisit this again, it is definitely well-made and challenging film. It is not a pleasing or uplifting film, and although not gratuitous in its violence, is quite stressing nonetheless. It raises some socially relevant issues and as far as remakes go, it is heads and shoulders above the rest.
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