Film Review – Carnage

Carnage (M)

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Starring: Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz

Four and a half stars

Review by: Julian Wright


Carnage is what happens when two sets of parents try to clear the air after their children fight. Anyone who doesn’t have children can only imagine the awkwardness associated with such a situation, particularly when one child is injured by the other. Double awkward. But thanks to this film and the play it is based on, Gods of Carnage, we no longer have to imagine this strange situation.

After we witness, from a distance, a squabble between two children which results in one striking the other in the face with a stick, we are placed in the New York apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly). The well to do couple are hosting Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) . We discover the Cowan’s child Zachary was the one that hit the Longstreet’s son Ethan in the face and he now needs dental surgery.

The couples have decided to meet and settle the situation like adults. However as the meeting progresses, it goes from some forced and awkward pleasantries to small digs at each others parenting. Blame is thrown around and things get nasty. Not only that, but the longer these people stay in the same room, the more evident the cracks in both marriages become apparent. And the more unhinged these people get, the funnier it gets.

Despite Polanski’s efforts, Carnage cannot escape its single location, theatrical origins.  He moves his camera around the apartment often enough for a cinematic feel but this is a minor quibble. When you have four fine actors in the one room with a script as sharp as this one, who cares? Waltz steals it as the workaholic that constantly interrupts the meeting by answering his phone calls but only Foster could have done with dialing down her hysteria.

This film teeters on the unbelievable but manages to never tip over. Every time the Cowen’s try to leave the apartment, they are drawn back in. Had the script contrived one more failed attempt, it could have been a fatal mistake, but Polanski and writer Yasmina Reza know their limits. The self-control they exhibit in bringing the material to the screen is admirable. This is particularly apparent with the compact 79 minute running time. A skilled director, expert performers and a witty script; there are much worse ways to spend your  time.

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