You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Funny Games

Euro helmer Michael Haneke’s almost shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 chiller “Funny Games U.S.” is as shocking and deliberately manipulative as the original movie.

Anna Farber - Naomi Watts George Farber - Tim Roth Paul - Michael Pitt Peter- Brady Corbet Georgie Farber - Devon Gearhart Fred Thompson Boyd Gaines Betsy Thompson - Siobhan Fallon Robert - Robert LuPone Eva - Linda Moran (English dialogue)

Euro helmer Michael Haneke’s almost shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 chiller “Funny Games” is as shocking and deliberately manipulative as the original movie and — some may reckon — even more pointless. Transposed from Europe to Long Island, with English rather than German dialogue, the pic is robbed of some of its arthouse distance — especially for Anglophone auds — and inevitably stands comparison with other, much more commercial family-in-peril movies. Even with the excellent Naomi Watts to hook more viewers than ever saw Haneke’s first pass, this is still specialty, upscale fare. Warner Independent plans a limited Stateside release Feb. 15.

Unspooled in Cannes’ 1997 competition, with almost no advance info but considerable buzz about its violent content, the original pic followed two other arty examinations by Haneke of the relationship between violence and the media (“Benny’s Video,” “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance”). Film went unprized but immediately launched the German-born, Austrian-raised writer-director into the big league of Euro auteurs.

Despite that, Haneke’s original film remains largely unknown — especially Stateside — beyond hardcore art-movie buffs, far less so than subsequent movies like “Cache” or even “The Piano Teacher.”

Haneke is on record as always having considered the story more an American one than a Euro one culturally. But the original’s quizzical, very European view on screen violence — and its almost complete lack of U.S.-style redemption or catharsis — remains unchanged, making the movie a curious experience in its new setting.

Like many pics that purport to take a critical look at violence in the mass media, there’s also the same nagging doubt (as with the original) that the movie also trades on the exploitation it purports to examine. Strip away its high-minded artiness and the remade “Funny Games” manipulates the viewer as much as any more explicit shockfest — and without delivering any clear point to justify its accumulative distastefulness.

First seen driving to their comfy summer retreat with a yacht in tow, the Farber family is composed of dad George (Tim Roth), mom Anna (Watts) and son Georgie (Devon Gearhart). Stopping by their nearest neighbors, Fred and Betsy Thompson (Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon), in the rich, gated community, they notice the couple has two young male guests and seem curiously distant.

Fred comes around with one of his guests, Paul (Michael Pitt) — whom he describes as the son of a business associate — to help George launch his refitted boat. Meanwhile, the other guest, Peter (Brady Corbet), comes to the house to ask Anna if he can borrow some eggs.

First half-hour very effectively trades on the expectation of violence to come, from incongruous details like Paul and Peter both wearing white gloves to the extreme politesse adopted by all the characters, even as the two youths progressively stretch the unwritten rules of social behavior. When George finally cracks and slaps one of them in the face, the “games” begin in earnest.

For many viewers, the story will be completely new (unlike, say, Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho”), and the twists and turns and shockingly offhand moments of violence (largely offscreen) will carry an initial charge. Problem is, as the film progresses, it becomes painfully clear there’s no real point to the story; what we’re witnessing is a cool, intellectual exercise, as devoid of character and motivation as the two psychos themselves.

Some powerful movies have been made from senseless slaughter (“In Cold Blood”), but Haneke’s script gives the viewer no way into the characters. Pic also tries to have it both ways, supplying the viewer with one brief moment of emotional satisfaction, but then turning that satisfaction against the viewer.

Where the dramatic focus in the earlier version was evenly balanced between husband and wife, here Watts’ Anna is unquestionably the main protag. Thesp, who co-exec produced, rises to the occasion with a beautifully judged perf of bourgeois grit that pushes the character as far as the script allows. In Roth’s perf, George comes across as a much weaker figure than in the original.

In the Paul-and-Peter double act, acting kudos are also reversed. Pitt is unctuously evil as Ivy League psycho Paul (far more threatening than in the original), while Corbet is largely his sidekick dunce.

In a curious artistic choice, Darius Khondji’s lensing is drained of any warmth, with cold whites and distilled colors that underline the obvious. Juergen Juerges’ lensing of the ‘97 version made more of the contrast between bright, summery colors and the sense of threat beneath them.

Dialogue is precisely translated from the 1997 film, with the couple’s house an exact replica of the original; running time is a mere four minutes longer. Most notable other change, which introduces a visual distraction not in the original, is to have Watts in her underwear (rather than fully clothed) during the central sequence.

On print screened at London fest, title was presented as “Funny Games U.S.”

Funny Games

U.S. - U.K. - France - Germany - Italy

Production: A Tartan (in U.K.)/Warner Independent Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Celluloid Dreams (France)/Warner Independent Pictures (U.S.) presentation of a Halcyon Pictures, Tartan Films (U.K.)/Celluloid Dreams (France)/X Filme Intl. (Germany)/Lucky Red (Italy) production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine. Executive producers, Hengameh Panahi, Douglas Steiner, Carol Siller, Naomi Watts. Co-producers, Jonathan Schwartz, Rene Bastian, Linda Moran, Andro Steinborn, Christian Baute, Adam Brightman. Directed, written by Michael Haneke, based on his 1997 film “Funny Games.”

Crew: Camera (color), Darius Khondji; editor, Monika Willi; music, excerpts from works by Handel, Mascagni, Mozart and others; production designer, Kevin Thompson; art director, Hinju Kim; costume designer, David C. Robinson; sound (Dolby Digital), Tom Varga; assistant director, Urs Hirschbiegel; casting, Johanna Ray. Reviewed at National Film Theater 3, London, Oct. 15, 2007. (In London Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 112 MIN.

Cast: Anna Farber - Naomi Watts George Farber - Tim Roth Paul - Michael Pitt Peter- Brady Corbet Georgie Farber - Devon Gearhart Fred Thompson Boyd Gaines Betsy Thompson - Siobhan Fallon Robert - Robert LuPone Eva - Linda Moran (English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Eric Wareheim, 'The Simpsons' E.P. Matt

    Beefsteak Gathers Comedy Bigwigs for Meat and Mayhem

    The masterminds behind Beefsteak, a debauched tribute to the meaty arts that raises thousands for the Los Angeles Food Bank, switch things up each year so that guests are never bored. Organized by comedy players including Eric Wareheim, “The Simpsons” executive producer Matt Selman, and ABC Studios VP of comedy Cort Cass with Redbird chef Neal [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - February 16

    San Francisco Symphony Ushers in Chinese New Year With Glitzy Gala

    As legend has it: among the Chinese Zodiac’s 12 animals, the pig comes last because it was the final one to arrive to a party thrown by the Jade Emperor — lazy sauntering being a characteristic trait of the animal. The folktale was perhaps less fitting this past Saturday evening, as the San Francisco Symphony [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Producer Mel Jones poses at the

    'Dear White People' Producer Talks Hollywood's 'Black Tax'

    “Dear White People” and “Leimert Park” executive producer Mel Jones is extremely familiar with growing up and watching “white men in all types of roles and never [seeing] ourselves as a part of those narratives.” Now, there may be some more opportunities for writers of color to tell their own stories, but, she notes, there [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content