Roman Polanki’s Carnage arrives in the UK on the 3rd February 2012 with some gold plated acting talent. The film stars two Golden Globe nominated actresses, Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, alongside Christoph Waltz and John C Reilly.
Putting family life under a microscope has long been a popular device for filmmakers, but very few do it quite like Roman Polanski. In Carnage he takes four civil, up-standing New-Yorkers and reduces them, in the space of 79 minutes, to their true unapologetic selves.
With a name like Carnage, you’d be forgiven for expecting a slasher film to rival the Saw franchise. On the contrary the film is a ‘warts and all’ portrayal of parenting, that is bitingly funny and disturbingly accurate.
Here are a few subjects you should not broach in a social situation with another family: you should not insult their children, criticise their parenting, their careers, or mention leaving your daughter’s hamster out on the pavement because you were sick of it.
Everyone agreed these are big no nos? So what happens when these rules are ignored? Carnage explores this with brilliant wit.
Polanski had genius material to work with: the film is based on the comedy play ‘The God of Carnage‘ written by Yasmina Reza, and he also drafted her in to adapt it for the screen. The play has enjoyed successful runs in Paris, London and on Broadway since its premiere in 2006 and Polanski reportedly saw the play’s potential immediately.
The film certainly lives up to its source material. There is never a pause in what so easily could have been mundane and boring. Instead we have two families, the Longstreets (Foster & Reilly) and the Cowens (Winslet & Waltz), locked in a showdown over their children. Set in the Longstreet’s apartment, the four adults get together to discuss the issue at hand. Passive aggressive banter soon escalates, revealing each adults’ contradictions and hypocrisy.
Much of the genius lies in the unpredictable nature of the story. Of course there are certain aspects that you do see coming. Alan Cowen’s (Waltz) phone will go off every other minute, and the impending explosion from four strong personalities clashing is inevitable, but you can’t predict each adult’s reactions to one another. It’s delicious to find out. Alan reprimands the Longstreets for implying his son ‘disfigured’ their son, but in the next breath describes his own son as a maniac. It’s these contradictory moments that the comedy is at its most powerful and we get many of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments.
The film is in real-time just like the play, which is possibly Polanski’s biggest triumph. As an audience you are made to feel like you are in the room with them, although at a safe enough distance to observe without implication. Polanski cleverly toys with those basic human instincts that make us judge others and laugh at our own failings. The only detriment I could find was, the entire film takes place in one setting, which becomes a little tedious after a while.
A lot of credit has to go to to the four actors. They play off each other so well. Polanski reportedly scheduled them for weeks of rehearsal, performing the screenplay like the play it’s based on. It shows; the scenes flow very naturally.
Despite our reluctance, we gradually feel empathetic with each character. Kate Winslet (The Reader) for example, gives an outstanding performance as the demure and aloof Nancy. At first she seems cold , but by the end, after she has stopped trying to mediate proceedings, you might find you don’t mind her after all. Unlike Jodie Foster’s (Panic Room) character; the liberal writer Penelope, who seems pleasant in the beginning but by the end is a hysterical sobbing wreck. John C Reilly also deserves a mention too, for his comedic timing, and Waltz is deliciously nasty throughout.
The most amusing thing though, is so much of the conflict could have been avoided. A bite of the tongue here and there, and avoiding certain subjects would have caused far fewer problems. But where’s the fun in that?
Carnage is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now!