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Funny Games U.S.

Funny Games' sinister violence and adventurousness is what independent film is all about.


Violence is the real story here: symbols of how media portrays it, changes it, as well as the general public's ideas about it. The story starts idyllic at a white-washed, bayside, peaceful summer house. Married couple George (Tim Roth) and Susanne (Naomi Watts) bring their fair-haired boy Georgie (Devon Gearhart) and sailboat out for fun and recreation. In the background, their neighbors let an uninvited, pushy twosome of boys named Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) onto their private grounds. The adolescent guys soon show up at George and Susanne's screen door, weirdly needing eggs. These villains at first seem as though they're only guilty of being inconsiderate and clumsy, when Peter drops the eggs and Susanne's cell phone into a sink full of water. But the boys soon turn decidedly nastier. Killing the family dog, cracking George's knees with a golf club and tying Susanne up, Paul makes them a bet: that all three will be dead in 24 hours. It is one of the film's several "games," a motif running throughout Funny Games--except they are not at all funny.


We can continue our love affair with the superb Naomi Watts. She singlehandedly brings much nuanced credibility to any film she's in--from tiny, quirky indies (Ellie Parker) to blockbusters (King Kong) to Funny Games, an amped-up genre flick. It's hard not to feel for Susanne's plight, through Watts' expressive eyes and her flashes of intelligence. Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) and Brady Corbet (Thirteen) also deserve credit in their own right, looking harmless and rigorously conformist in their all-white appearance. They use silence and awkwardness to show them to be all the more antisocial and deviant. Their criminality makes an unusual impact. Even Tim Roth, who plays the half-conscious tortured husband almost as a caricature, evokes sympathy.


Funny Games is director Michael Haneke's shot-by-shot American remake of his 1997 Austrian film of the same name. The suspense scenes are world-class in ratcheting up the nerves, much like Stanley Kubrick does with The Shining. When Peter comes after Georgie, for example, the building of the boy's fear is genius and unfettered with conventions. Haneke doesn't jolt the audience with messy noise and slight-of-hand, allowing the characters' pure cruelty drive the fear. Funny Games gets a little big for its britches at times, especially when Haneke uses the narrative to make larger social commentaries about the media. Its relevance (and the point's clarity) seems disingenuous. In any event, audiences will react differently to the comically perverse violence: some will be horrified and delighted at the film's exploitation, others will see the humor but will be hesitant to express it. Funny Games is just a one of those polarizing films.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.