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The Independent Culture

Gus Van Sant's painstaking "homage" to the 1960 Hitchcock classic is virtually a shot-by-shot re-creation that fails to sustain interest either as a thriller or as a postmodern exercise (it's far too timid and witless to be in any way Warholian). The novelty value evaporates almost immediately after the opening credits, a rehash of the Saul Bass original (Bernard Herrmann's indelible score has been minimally tweaked by Danny Elfman). The 1998 version is in colour, and the costume design is at least eye-catchingly florid. The actors all appear lost, though: a tightly wound Anne Heche attempts to invest the Marion Crane role with what passes for nervous energy - with dubious results. But she's not nearly as disconcerting as Vince Vaughn, who makes for a pitifully unconvincing Norman Bates (his body language is modelled faithfully on Anthony Perkins, but the overall effect, far from being threatening, is quite embarrassing). Julianne Moore and Viggo Mortensen are strictly decorative in the supporting roles. Van Sant's main gimmick is to adorn the celebrated murder montages with flashes of surreal imagery. Oh, and you can now hear Norman masturbating as he spies on Marion. That's about it. Everything else is as it was, and therefore incapable of leaving much of an impression. Slavishly competent, but also absurdly dull.


The Austrian director Michael Haneke makes rigorous, manipulative films that force viewers into rethinking their relationship with what is happening on screen. Arguably his most sadistic work to date, Funny Games sees a bourgeois family held captive in their summer home by two murderous young men, one of whom was the teenage protagonist of Haneke's no less notorious Benny's Video. (The two killers refer to themselves as Beavis and Butt-head or Tom and Jerry.) The idea is to remind viewers of their complicity in screen violence. But Haneke's position - his moral superiority, the delight he takes as a skilful engineer of cruelty - is disconcerting. This is a highly theoretical film founded on theories that are not only suspect but alarmingly intractable.