Movie Review: Carnage (2011, dir. Roman Polanski)

Carnage is a simple concept, a single location film, done with an extraordinary amount of talent; a script adapted from Yasmina Reza’s award winning play God Of Carnage, the accomplished director Roman Polanski, and four celebrated talents dominating the screen.  Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play the Cowans, a couple whose son has gotten into a fight and struck another boy on the playground.  Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play the Longhorns, the injured boy’s parents. The Longhorns invite the Cowans to their ritzy uptown Manhattan apartment to work out the best approach to resolve the conflict between their sons.  What occurs is a cynical, highly comedic battle between a group of adults who discover their good intentions are only skin deep.

It’s always a little jarring watching a film that treats its set like a stage that cannot be escaped. You don’t think of movies as static, fixed places. Yet Carnage accomplishes just that; barricading four well-meaning parents in their desire resolve an issue between their sons, an effort which slowly traps the families in their stubbornness. The film doesn’t leave the Manhattan apartment aside from the opening and closing shots. Unlike a stage, which is bound on all sides by tangible objects, Polanski uses the parents desire for good to confine them on the set. The film continues to allude to an outside world, something which heightens the anxiety by reminding the audience that there IS someplace to escape; In fact, Winslet and Waltz almost leave twice. But the escalating struggle between the two families continues to ensnare them, dragging the parents back into the confines of the New York apartment.

Alliances are formed and broken, exposing the sinews of their different bonds; the bond of being parents, of marriage, of female and male loyalty.  Everyone is a little bit evil; everyone is holding something back.  One by one, each person starts to unravel, and it’s quite clear none of them are exactly who they want to be.

Although I have not attended a performance of the play that the film is based on, from the structure and style of the film, I have to imagine it’s extremely true to the source material.  For viewers who are not already comfortable with movies that bare a close resemblance to live theater, it will take some time to adjust. If theatrical style acting in film irks you, you may not be able to get into this one at all. The characters are loud and exaggerated and, especially in the case of Foster’s upper-class hippie, it’s a tad bit grating at first. Yet, it’s all justified. It all really works.  Once you settle in to the style, you won’t question it again.

If you’re not set on having a certain level of realism in your dramatic films, I must recommend Carnage.  Not only are the performances captivating and layered, despite being secluded to a single location, there’s a very palpable rhythm and progression that will keep you transfixed. It’s also very funny.

The actors and the words are definitely the main attraction of Carnage, but that doesn’t mean the film is lacking technically. The cinematography is wonderful, and it seems every shot has been careful calculated to portray the current power struggle.  Mirrors, doors, and furniture become barriers and windows.

In the end, the film is good; it’s stimulating and fun. Polanski has done the material proper justice. But it left me wanting to see Reilly, Foster, Winslet, and Waltz on stage.  Especially Christoph Waltz, who brings a serpentine quality to his performance, he is threatening and intellectual.  As a side note, in spite of his character being honestly despicable, he’s rather sexy.  Now I’m having Waltzing fantasies; I’ve gotten way off topic.

In my opinion, Carnage was a hurriCANNES of a movie.



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