Eric D. Snider

Funny Games

Movie Review

Funny Games

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: A-

Released: March 14, 2008

 

Directed by:

Cast:

The purpose of "Funny Games" is to provoke and disturb the audience. It does this so well that you may not be able to watch it -- a curious thing for a filmmaker to shoot for, but hey, that's the Austrians for you.

Michael Haneke already made this film in 1997 before going on to make other challenging films like "The Piano Teacher" and "Cache." Now he has remade it, almost shot-for-shot (see my note at the end), in English. His reason is apparently just that he'd like the film to be seen by a wider audience.

The hilarious part there is that no matter what language it's in, this film is not very marketable. It's not only a violent movie but a movie ABOUT violence. It toys with the audience's expectations about how movies are supposed to work. It allows brutal things to happen, then indicts us for wanting to see brutal things happen.

It's set in a lovely vacation home on a lake somewhere, the refuge of an affluent, upper-crust family whose members amuse themselves on long car trips by playing "Name That Tune" with opera CDs. We know little else about them other than their names: George (Tim Roth) the father, Anna (Naomi Watts) the mother, and Georgie (Devon Gearhart) the young son.

Just after they arrive for an extended stay, a young man in a tennis outfit stops by. He says his name is Peter (Brady Corbet). He's staying with the neighbors for a couple days, and the wife of that family asked him to come over and borrow four eggs from Anna. Anna gladly hands them over. Peter drops them on his way out, apologizes profusely in his soft, whimpery voice, and Anna gets some new eggs for him.

While this is going on, Peter's buddy Paul (Michael Pitt) shows up. Like Peter, he's dressed in tennis whites and is unfailingly polite. Also like Peter, he is slightly odd in his behavior. The boys' language is grammatically correct and unprovocative, yet at the same time slightly "off." Some of their answers are non sequiturs. They ask questions that don't seem to mean anything. They refer to each other by names other than Peter and Paul.

Haneke presents this sequence in a way that's almost unbearably tense. No one is doing anything blatantly wrong from a moral standpoint; even from a purely social standpoint the boys are more awkward than anything else, only gradually growing intrusive and presumptuous over time. Part of the reason the scene is so unsettling is that you can't quite put your finger on what's unsettling about it.

Finally the dam breaks and the incident turns into a full-blown home invasion. George is incapacitated -- unmanned, really, as he is forced to see his family suffer, powerless to help. Peter and Paul play mind games with the family and with the audience. Peter is the younger and less confident of the two, while Paul -- played with chilling menace by the soft-spoken Michael Pitt -- runs the show.

Haneke's goal is to unnerve us by subverting our expectations. He sets it up as a violent film, and yet almost every act of violence takes place off-camera. Instead of the frantic editing one normally sees in movies about killers and victims, Haneke shoots in long, unbroken takes. He keeps us distanced from the action by minimizing close-ups and by frequently composing shots that avoid the actors' faces, or that focus on someone other than the person speaking. And then, once we feel safely distanced from the horror, Haneke yanks us into it by having one of the characters look right into the camera and address us.

The film is not fun in the usual way that movies are fun. It deliberately avoids giving the payoffs we expect. Yet I don't find it frustrating or aggressive. Some provocative filmmakers seem intent on irritating or turning off the audience. With Haneke, I get the feeling that once you understand what he's up to, he's glad to have you in on the joke. He certainly goes about executing it in a masterful way.

(Finally, a note on how the film was remade. Only a few minor things prevent it from being literally a shot-for-shot remake. The dialogue, apart from being in English instead of German, is likewise almost identical. The sets are virtual twins of those in the original. Haneke has basically made it so that native English speakers have their own version of his film. He has not watered it down or altered it in the translation.)

Grade: A-

Rated R, a little harsh profanity, a fair amount of violence and disturbing content

1 hr., 47 min.

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This item has 15 comments

  1. Jenn says:

    I just saw the trailers for this movie this last weekend & wasn't really sure what to think of the movie. So glad you were able to review & hopefully it'll show up here in Provo before it goes to video!!

  2. Jess says:

    i want to see this movie really bad but just the trailer seems to be a little disturbing, im not one that goes out and see horror movies but this movie looks really good, im not sure if it would be too disturbing though. Im not sure if i should see it?

  3. Mark says:

    This review and the grade associated with it reinforce my theory about film critics. Over time, they lose touch of what is actually "good." Because they see so many movies, a movie which is imaginatively different will seem "good" to them. Even if it is a movie with no real characters to speak of, an extended joke of which they, themselves are the butt. Time was, I used to read all of your reviews and trust the grades. But now, I only use them to find out the premise of movies I have never heard of (skipping the ubiquitous spoilers) or to laugh about movies I have already seen or don't plan to. I don't use them to get any sort of accurate picture of what I might think.

  4. John says:

    Thank you! Thank you so much! I walked out of this movie loving it, but everyone else in the theater hated it. I was forced to defend something I couldn't explain. All I know is that I got it, along with the reviewer and the director, while everyone else was left out. This review cements exactly what I love about this movie!

  5. Clumpy says:

    I guess a movie that gives you a little more to think about than the typical movie will click with critics and others who don't necessarily watch a movie just for the 1 1/2 hour that they're in the theater.

    Still, reading Ebert's review, it seems that the director would rationalize the flick by saying: "Don't you get it? The whole POINT of the movie is that it's inconsistent and doesn't follow its own logic!"

  6. Davey Boy says:

    Ebert didn't review it. Look again.

  7. Clumpy says:

    I looked again for you:

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080313/REVIEWS/679566521

  8. Clumpy says:

    Ah, I get it. It was in bold, too. I don't know why it includes an "Ebert" score at the top, then.

  9. whome says:

    Mark, I think you forgot something about these reviews. Eric tries to judge a film on its ability to communicate the intended experience to the intended audience. At the begining of the review, Eric admits that this film doesn't really have much of an audience. However, for whatever audience there is, the film works extremely well.

    Many critics have forgotten that the purpose of film is to communicate to their audiences, so I find that Eric's reviews are a bit of fresh air in the critical world. Too many filmmakers fail to realize that some films are made with film critics as their intended audience, and forget that there are other audiences that also need to be served.

    I'm not always in the audience for which a film might be made, and Eric's reviews also give me this information. But I've had really good luck following Eric's advice when I am a part of the intended audience.

  10. Thomas M. says:

    Mark - Critics have lost touch of what is "actually good?"

    First of all, you speak of "critics" as if they were an enormous, single-minded entity of some sort that agreed on everything. But the fact is, every critic is simply an individual who happens to watch a lot of movies and who is paid (or not) to write their response to each movie. Your contention that critics don't know what is "actually good" is silly, mainly because critics and their opinions are as varied as, well... Something. They're very varied. Compare Roger Ebert's top ten list from last year to, say, Jonathan Rosenbaum's top ten list. And then compare both of those to the list of someone like Jeff Vice, the critic for the Deseret News. And then read Armond White's list (and be frightened.) Compare Eric's review of this film to Jim Emerson's review (linked to a few posts above mine.) Yes, there are many films about which many critics agree, and most critics do tend to favor certain types of films - many of which don't do well with general audiences - but still, their tastes vary widely (just as the taste of members of the general audiences vary widely.) I'd suggest that the difference between the "average" taste of critics and the "average" taste of general audiences is that the two are looking for different things in films, and have different reasons for watching - that is, most general audiences tend to prefer film as mere "escapism" and don't care about or believe in film as an art form, while most critics tend to value artistry, originality, intelligence, etc. over sheer escapism (though entertainment is still important to them - it's just that what people find entertaining differs.) That doesn't mean critics are jaded or "out of touch", but that different people look for and are entertained by different things in films, and that those who usually become critics have a belief in film as an art form and are more inclined to appreciate/enjoy more serious films that many would pass off as "arthouse drivel" or "something only critics like." But believe it or not, there's a fairly large group of people who aren't critics (and are members of the "general audiences") who also tend to like the films the majority of critics like.

    I would also say that the biggest asset of critics is the fact that they've seen so many films - and thus they're informed. I'm of the opinion that the more books you read, the more movies you watch, etc. the more able you are to hold an intelligent discussion about those mediums (assuming that you're not watching only Michael Bay films or reading only Michael Crichton novels.) I don't buy the theory that you can see "too many films" just as I don't think you can listen to too much music, or read too many books - within reason, of course (and the four or five movies, give or take, that most critics watch a week is quite within reason, in my opinion.)

    There are some critics I agree with more than others (I prefer Ebert to Rosenbaum, for example) not because I think some have lost touch with "what is actually good" (whatever that means) but because I find my tastes coincide with some more than others. I've found Ebert (when he's not sick) to be a spectacular guide, and find that I agree with him about 80% of the time (does that mean I've lost touch too, Mark?) Making the blanket statement that "critics have lost touch with what is actually good" is just ignorant, as there are so very many critics out there.

    I've come to the conclusion that most (but not all) people who are interested in film as anything more than a mindless entertainment, and who watch more than one or two movies a month, will find that their tastes tend to lean more towards a general "critical-esque" taste as opposed to a "popular with the masses" taste (that is to say, they'll probably be more inclined to see, and appreciate "There Will Be Blood" or "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" over "Spiderman 3" or "Transformers" - not that all critics agreed on the merits, or lack thereof, of any of those films, but that most, if not all would agree that the former two are superior in terms of filmmaking quality and intelligence to the latter two.)

    Yeah, I'm a snob.

    Sorry for the length of the rant.

  11. loney says:

    i just watched this movie and was the worst most boring movie i have ever seen. pointless and dull i think who ever worked in this movie should never work in hollywood again. you waisted 2 hrs of my life and 3.99 in us currency. i hate you hollywood. love loney

  12. Kaydria says:

    This movie filled me with self loathing, regret, a headache, and an intense craving for comfort food and hugs.

    I really wish I hadn't watched it. It took me three hours to get through because I kept pausing to take 30 Rock breaks.

  13. steve says:

    This is an appalling movie. It is simply an excuse for gratuitious and pointless violence. I agree with Ebert and see absolutely no redeeming feature whatsoever. Funny Games is certainly a reflection of cultural psychosis, as represented by violent and pointless movies like Hostel and Saw

  14. Brian says:

    Again, Roger Ebert DID NOT review this film. Jim Emerson reviewed it on his site. Some of you need to think about why this film troubled you so much. The violence all appeared off screen, so why did it make you churn so much? Because it's well made and is able to carry out its horror without senseless violent images. But, the film also asks us questions like, how do you justify violence? At what point does it become too much? At what point would you like to stop watching? It isn't going to give you the cheap horror thrills that you want. It's giving you the reality: Violence is disturbing, not entertaining. This is a film, like A Clockwork Orange, that is only violent and disturbing in the audience's mind. Watch it again: the violence is not shown. What does this mean? Is it more disturbing for us to see the images, or is it more disturbing when our imagination supplies the images, in which case the film didn't actually disturb you, you did it to yourself.

  15. Gus W says:

    It was disturbing because it has no redeeming moral message of any kind. I hated Caché just as much. I can take horror, suspense, gore, violence - but this was another example of senseless meandering.

    Then too, breaking the proscenium and "the rewind" scene made the movie completely ridiculous, playing a game with the viewer in the same way the killers did with their victims. If this is supposed to be some kind of worthwhile comment on the tendency to sadistically play with one's prey, I can't understand why people would want to be subject to this.

    To me the whole bit seemed to be some kind of blasé and nihilistic "nothing means anything" statement. Maybe the one possible takeaway would be to arm yourselves against home invasions and not to assume white kids in nice clothes are safe to be around.

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