It’s not hard to see that “Carnage” is based on a play. It’s a very stagey and theatrical adaptation of Yazmina Reza’s “God of Carnage”. The play first appeared Paris and London and soon found its way to Broadway where it was a Tony Award winner. Now Roman Polanski brings this confined but energetic story to the big screen and anchors it with four fantastic performers: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly. It’s a sharply written, often times laugh out loud funny, and occasionally repetitive performance-driven drama.
The movie starts with a wide shot of a playground where two boys are having a disagreement. Things escalate and ends with one striking the other in the face with a stick. The story then skips forward as Nancy and Alan Cowan (Winslet and Waltz), the parents of the boy who had the stick, arrive at the apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Foster and Reilly), the parents of the boy who was hit. The four are meeting to talk about the incident and find the easiest solution to put it all behind them. Everything starts fairly civil but soon things start to unravel. Small subtle jabs erupt into abrasive personal attacks and things are made even worse once they all get into the Longstreet’s vintage bottle of Scotch.
With the exception of the brief opening scene and the brief final scene, the entire movie takes place inside the Longstreet’s apartment building. But don’t let that scare you. The clever dialogue and the unfolding of these very flawed characters is more than enough to hold your attention. Each have their own peculiarity and shortcoming and before long we even see the spouses turning on one another. The slick dialogue is delivered at an almost frantic pace but it also has a grounded and natural feel to it. The acting is strong and exactly what you would expect from this cast. The actors bounce their lines off each other and for the most part feel authentic. Now there were instances where Reilly falls into his typical over-the-top doofus mode and I did think both Foster and Winslet were brought down a little by the material. It also felt at times the film was a little repetitive. It seemed like some of the arguments were repeated but with slightly different verbal dressing and that lagged things down in the second act.
“Carnage” is an interesting film that offers some genuine laughs and some moments of brilliance. The small cast provides some truly fine performances even though the material hits a few small speed bumps. “Carnage” is a very tight, compact picture that sticks close to its theatrical roots. But even at under 80 minutes it has a little trouble filling it’s time and it may lose some viewers along the way. Yet I think there was enough here and I was entertained throughout. Plus I loved the final shot and felt that it spoke volumes. “Carnage” probably isn’t a movie for everyone, but I found it to be a dark comedy that worked.
This movie had the feel of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Two couples, four people who all seemed to carry heavy baggage and one fateful afternoon that allows each to unload it. Each character could hold your sympathy briefly until they go on to belittle another cast member and thus begins the sympathy cycle all over again. And the fact the two kids become pals at the end is priceless.
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