Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C.Reilly & Christoph Waltz
Running Time: 78 minutes
There’s always been a problem with watching a movie based on a play. It’s glaringly obvious you’re watching a play. You can dress it with elaborate sets and locations, garnish it with evocative orchestral scores or contemporary pop tunes and frame your shots seven ways from Sunday. It’s still a play. Not that that is something to be criticised, and with Carnage, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play God Of Carnage, we see exactly why.
Set with in one single New York apartment and spun around a simple premise, it sees two couples; neurotic art snob Penelope (Jodie Foster) and her gregarious oaf of a husband Michael (John C.Reilly), along with sheltered Nancy (Kate Winslet) and nihilistic lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz) meeting to discuss a playground spat between their two eleven-year-old sons. A simple discussion on rights and wrongs soon evolves into a manic meditation on Darfur, unethical pharmaceuticals practices, hamster homicide, misogyny, rare art books and splendid shit-talking.
Polanski executes the whole proceeding with a nod to the WWE. What starts as continuous goading pushes to snide one-upmanship before 18-year-old scotch pushes it from a tag-team bout into a Royal Rumble of a scenery-devouring proportions. You know they should know better, yet you can’t help yourself from egging on their infantile potshots. Like wrestling, it’s evident you’re what you’re watching is scripted and hyper-realistic but Christ, is it ever fun to watch.
It’s hard to pick a winner in it all. Waltz brings some of the smarm that made Hans Landa such a deplorable villain to the fore, his constant torturing of Foster’s highly strung do-gooder gets played for a high proportion of the laughs. Kate Winslet gets to flex a rarely seen comedic muscle, as her mild mannered nature soon gives way to a bile spewing, literally, foul mouthed monstrosity. As Michael, John C.Reilly first plays the diplomatic mediator whose conflict resolution lies in more servings of apple cobbler before torching a cigar and watching the magma erupt from his co-stars.
A checkered and well documented history has left a lot of Polanski’s films cold and removed, and while Carnage isn’t exactly feel good territory, it’s nice to see him massage his funny bone for once. At 78 minutes too, it knows exactly when to stop – just before it’s fatal four-way of foils chomps it’s way through the Brooklyn high-rise apartment leaving only Dogville styled chalk outlines.