Carnage * * * *
Director: Roman Polanski.
Screenplay: Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski.
Starring: Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Elvis Polanski, Eliot Berger.
“God Of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza was originally a stage play that featured on Broadway, with such talented performers as James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis. Supposedly, it was quite a powerful piece, so Roman Polanski always had his work cut out in adapting it for the screen.
Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) pay a visit to Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) to discuss an upsetting schoolyard incident in which the first couple’s son has beat up the other’s. These four intelligent adults, hope they can resolve their differences with a positive approach and teach their children about responsibility, instead of resorting to physical or verbal abuse. However, things don’t quite work out that way.
Having not seen or read the play, my experience of this is based solely on Polanski’s version. He has been criticised for not capturing the claustrophobia of the play but I have to say that the film really worked for me. There is obvious tensions between the characters and with nowhere for them to go but to sit around a cramped apartment, talking through their differences, the tension builds admirably. Granted, it wasn’t as intense as I was expecting but what it did have (that I wasn’t expecting) was a lot of humour. This is mainly down to four joyful performances. Throughout their (intended) cordial meeting, each character displays their viewpoints. In the beginning, they’re subtle but as tempers begin to fray, they get more vicious with their barrage of abuse towards one another. The conduct of their behaviour often reflects their chosen professions. Foster is an aspiring writer, choosing her words carefully; Waltz is a high profile attorney who jumps on her every word; Winslet the frustrated housewife and Reilly, a low-key salesman finding himself the go-between during the escalating discomfort. Each one of the four actors put in fine performances but Reilly and Waltz are the particular standouts. Polanski himself, doesn’t have to do much but allow his actors to take charge of their roles. And that they do.
Capturing claustrophobic situations and heightened tensions between his characters is a notable gift that Polanski has shown throughout his films. The most notable comparison (also based on a stage play) is “Death And The Maiden“. So, that being said, it’s surprising that he was criticised for a lack of it here. If you go into this expecting humour then you won’t be disappointed and it’s always a bonus that the actual playwright contributes with the screenplay also.
A finely tuned chamber piece that delivers a real sense of uncomfortable cordiality. The characters are identifiable and the actors deliver with aplomb.