We’ve all been in the sort of situation that requires we behave with tact and restraint, rather than the seething anger we actually feel – disputes with neighbours, family quarrels, traffic incidents etc.
Carnage, the latest film from Roman Polanski, is about one of those situations. Only on this occasion, despite the best intentions of most of the participants, tact and restraint are abandoned in favour of hysteria.
Ethan, the son of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), has been hit in the face with a stick, resulting in some damage to his teeth. The protagonist is Zachary, the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christolph Waltz and Kate Winslet). All four parents decide to meet at the Longstreet’s apartment to discuss, and hopefully resolve the situation.
Initially, the Longstreets are almost overbearing in their hospitality, with Penelope talking without interruption, and Michael forcing food and drink on the more restrained Cowans. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Alan Cowan is less than pleased to be there, paying more attention to his mobile phone than the matter at hand.
The meeting is drawn out further when Nancy, suddenly nauseous, vomits across the Longstreet’s coffee table, on which there are several expensive art books. As Penelope’s already nervous disposition deteriorates, the afternoon starts to go downhill, particularly when Michael introduces a bottle of Scotch.
Couples turn on each other, husbands scream at wives, the women laugh at the men.
Carnage is based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (who also co-wrote the screenplay). However, there is no attempt to hide its stage bound origins, with the entire movie (barring the short scenes that bookend the film) taking place in the one apartment. For me this worked in the movie’s favour, adding a claustrophobic effect – for the characters, there is no escape, only endurance.
The pleasures of Carnage are watching Foster and Winslet – two of the best female actors of the past 20-30 years – in full flight. Jodie Foster’s transformation from genial host to apoplectic wreck is amazing. But Reilly and Waltz are no slouches either. Waltz plays his cynical lawyer with relish, as though amused with the havoc he is helping to wreak. Reilly too, reveals himself to be far from the friendly host he might seem.
Carnage will make you laugh and squirm – often at the same time. It’s a small, intelligent film with great dialogue and superb acting. If you prefer guns, robots and car chases, I’d suggest you stay away; otherwise it’s definitely worth seeing.
Stick around for the end credits too, as you’ll notice the two sons reconciling in their own way, suggesting that perhaps we unlearn as we grow older, and not the other way around.
Review by Candy