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.
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.