Film Review: Carnage (15)

Dir: Roman Polanski

Stars: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C Reilly & Christophe Waltz

There are very few directors alive today who are truly worthy of being described as an “auteur”, but Roman Polanski is definitely one of them.  Jack Nicholson’s hot-tub and a few pieces of bankrupt filmmaking aside, he hardly ever seems to put a foot wrong. Whilst Carnage doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of his previous work, it is still and excellent character study and comedy of manners.

Carnage centres around two couples, the Longstreets and the Cowans, who meet to try and resolve an altercation between their sons in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Penelope (Foster) and Michael Lonstreet(Reilly), the parents of the victim, whilst Nancy (Winslet) and Alan Cowan(Waltz), are the parents of the aggressor. What ensues is a collision of two distinct factions of the American middle classes.

Adapted from a play, The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, Carnage is a four-handed piece that is deeply steeped in theatre. The entire 80 minutes is set inside the Longstreet’s apartment block, with the focus on script and acting; neither of which disappoint. The film starts slowly with the air of cordiality, but quickly begins to unravel as both couples steadily lose their poise. As the descent quickens, they revert to their base characteristics, and all pretence of civility and decorum evaporates.

Waltz is brilliant as the slimy attorney with the perpetually ringing phone; Reilly as the right-winger disguised as a liberal; Winslet as the spectacularly vomiting put-upon wife; and Foster as the politically correct left-winger. It isn’t simply a case of the two couples taking sides against each other. As the whisky begins to flow, allegiances change, and as their true natures are exposed, they see aspects of themselves in each other.

Alexandre Desplat returns to provide the score, as he did so successfully on Polanski’s last film, The Ghost; creating perfect bookends to the witty repartee. The ending is beautifully understated, acting as an illustration of how a small matter can become something a lot bigger; opening wounds that have been deeply buried. Life goes on, and as with Polanski’s personal circumstance, it is easy to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Carnage is a good film, but sadly not a great one. Whilst a director such as Richard Linklater is a master of this genre, Polanski doesn’t quite manage to translate the format of a play onto the big screen. Whilst there is a certain ingredient missing, Carnage still remains a highly enjoyable film.