Based on the popular play, God of Carnage, Carnage does little to stray from the claustrophobic, single apartment setting it’s originally based in, and it pays off. Typically a big screen adaptation would try to expand its boundaries and use that good-old “movie magic” to create something new out of already proven source material. Instead, Carnage sticks with what made the play a hit – great writing and solid performances.
What was meant to be a quick meeting between two couples to discuss the consequence of one couple’s son harming the other’s son melts down into petty quarrels as it becomes clear that the responsible adults are not better or smarter than their still-growing and learning 11 year olds. The bickering ego fest is between Michael and Penelope Longstreet (parents of the victim) and Alan and Nancy Cowan (parents of the attacker). Michael and Penelope are the more homely type. Michael sells home goods and Penelope is an art enthusiast who’s writing a book on the horrors in Darfur. Alan and Nancy are more business minded. Alan is a high powered corporate attorney who can’t be detached from his blackberry, and Nancy is a wealth manager who doesn’t really like to discuss her work. They’re all hiding who they truly are and soon find out they know less than they might have thought.
Carnage, for those who unfamiliar with the material, is a comedy. A dark one over all, but a comedy, nonetheless. The script was written by the play-write, Yasmina Reza and director Roman Polanski. Sharp wit and sarcasm drive the dialogue but like any good play, it’s the performers delivery that makes the material work so well. Not unlike a touring show, popular actors from past stage performances of God of Carnage were not used, allowing new actors to breathe life into familiar characters. It may only be four actors, but in one room you have a powerhouse of talent in Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet. Each brings to the table an almost too recognizable side of themselves that is shed as tensions grow. Selfish fools who can’t see the most blatant hypocrisies they all perpetrate, as a group they’re the most despicable people to share one room. Even so, each performer is able to keep the comedy brewing, even in their most pathetic moments.
For obvious reasons, Polanski had to shoot this Brooklyn, NY setting in Paris. Yes the scenery of Brooklyn that can be seen from the Longstreet’s windows is so seamlessly put together that those unaware would think it was shot in a real NY apartment. There’s also a fair amount of playfulness Polanski is able to have with the constrictive setting, using a large mirror at the back of the room to help contrast character relationships. It’s all just more proof that Polanski is still the formidable film maker he always was (regardless of your personal feelings about his personal life).
Carnage, like its stage counterpart, is short fare clocking in at about only 80 minutes. The short running time and stout dedication to delivering a play on film, is what makes this movie such a joy. You can tear into and try to analyze each piece of dialogue to look for a larger meaning, but in the end, Carnage still is just a wonderful, playfully dark comedy that surely entertains.
Rating: 4 out of 5 ‘Staches
Carnage is the opening night film of this years New York Film Festival. Click on the festival logo below to be taken to the film’s festival page where you can purchase tickets.