Review: Carnage (2011)

Director: Roman Polanski

***

After two young boys fight in a schoolyard brawl, and one injures the other, the two sets of parents meet to discuss what happened and to rectify matters. The only problem is they end up getting into a nasty verbal brawl and prove themselves to be as childish as their offspring. Welcome to Carnage, a hilarious-but-smug little flick that isn’t quite as clever as it might think.

The parents of the children being childish?! Oh, how very clever! Like her stage play ‘Le Dieu de Carnage’, Yazmine Reza’s screenplay centres on the plush New York apartment of the headstrong Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly). They host power couple Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet) after their sons fight, but initial niceties and servings of peach cobbler give way to insults and snipes being regurgitated like so much gone-off cobbler. Carnage is brilliantly and inescapably funny. Try not to titter every time Alan’s cellphone goes off and he must go discuss business in a corner. The aforementioned dessert ends up causing the best scene of projectile vomiting since Terry Jones ingested a “waffer-theen mint”. As whiskeys are passed round and indignant noses are bent out of shape, all pretense goes out the window and all four characters are forced to acknowledge their submission to the ‘god of Carnage’. As the only four characters in the entire film, the leads are uniformly excellent. Foster’s snippy, Reilly’s blustery, Winslet is boorish, Waltz is cynical and they all compliment each other wonderfully.

Reza adapts her stage play for the screen with Polanski, and it touches on a lot of issues; however, it can’t help but seem like an exercise in farce before devolving into a battle-of-the-sexes power play. There’s not a lot new to learn from Carnage; people are beastly, women and men differ, and we can’t change that, whoop-de-do. Carnage is the closest the four leads can come to starring in a play without actually getting on stage, so it makes sense that Carnage plays to their acting instincts. It’s just a pity that that ‘staginess’ translates into the direction. On stage, it makes sense that Alan and Nancy never get to leave the apartment but, watching them on the big screen you’ll scream at them just to get up and leave! As well as that, these people seem to get drunk very quickly. The constrained setting draws attention to itself frequently, and Polanski never manages to overcome that problem. He’s lucky that he has a hilarious script and able performers to work with, because that’s all Carnage has going for it. Watching Carnage, you are guaranteed to laugh. Enjoy watching the actors be ridiculous; just don’t think too much about what they’re saying. You just may end up feeling patronized.

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