Now the Bat-season is over I can get back to reviewing films that don’t involve the lead wearing head to toe rubber costumes. Yes, those films exist. One such film is Roman Polanski’s latest, Carnage. I have mentioned this before but I quite like Polanski’s work. His film Knife In The Water was one of the first foreign language films I ever saw when I was a young lad. It single handedly made me appreciate foreign and black & white films at a time when my favourite films were the Police Academy movies. And Robocop, I loved (and still love) Robocop. Point is it opened a door to a wider range of cinema and directors. If you’ve never seen any of his films Knife In The Water is the place to start. Then watch Chinatown, greatest movie ever made. So, Carnage, what’s it like? Click the link for my review.
Carnage is a film set over the course of 1 hour and 20 minutes as two pairs of parents attempt to come to some sort of reconciliation over a brief fight between their sons. As this time passes they’re pretensions of civility gradually crumble away to reveal bigoted personalities, childish behaviour and projectile vomiting. The parents are Penelope & Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster & John C Reilly) and Nancy & Alan Cowen (Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz). Both sets of parents have their heirs and graces but they also have their own motives and ideals about how to settle this spat between their children.
Penelope is an aspiring writer who’s credits include co-writing just one book and is currently writing a book on Darfur, because being a middle class housewife from New York gives her just the right insight to comment on that regions troubles. Michael is a self made business man running a hardware store who isn’t as liberal as he initially pretends to be. Alan is a lawyer for a pharmaceuticals company that spends most of his time on his phone and his wife Nancy is in wealth management, her husbands I assume.
What’s great about this film is that the entirety of the plot, character and humour comes from dialogue and character interactions. Well all except the aforementioned projectile vomiting scene. As you watch the film there’s at least 3 scenes where the night could have ended with the couples going their separate ways as Nancy & Alan come close to actually leaving Penelope and Michael’s apartment, but each time they get pulled back in be it by an offer of coffee or to save an embarrassing argument in the hallway. Each time we see them take that first step back toward the apartment we know things can only get worse. And get worse they do. The gradual decline into childish tit-for-tat squabblings is a car wreck of a sight to behold. They know the situation is deteriorating but their own selfish desire to be right and the better couple stops them from just letting the arguments end.
As the film progresses the sides that were taken at the start shift between members of the group. Towards the end the idea of standing by your partner has long since gone out the window and the individuals are finding new ways to side against each other over various issues, most of which don’t involve either of their sons. I love this sort of comedy. The sort where people get their heirs and graces broken down to show who they really are. As an audience we can relish in the decay of their moral fibre.
The film comes across a lot like a stage play as it moves along which is, unsurprisingly, because it is based on a play. That being the French play Le Dieu De Carnage, or The God Of Carnage in English, by Yasmina Reza. It’s a simple 4 person play (excluding the 2 children who appear at the start and end) which has parallels with other Polanski works. He likes to see people show their true selves and is interested at what secrets and bigoted views are hidden behind a persons outward appearance. Such themes appear multiple times in his works such as the previously mentioned films Knife In The Water and Chinatown. Which is what makes Carnage a perfect play for him to adapt to film. He does so very well with the script being based off the English language version of the play and only makes a few changes by all accounts. I’ve not seen the play but watching this film has certainly made me want to.
Performances are as solid as you could expect from a cast as good as this ones. Kate Winslet is possibly the star of the piece showing varying degrees of temperament and false civility with ease. Christoph Waltz comes into his own in the scenes where he’s getting to be more of an antagonist to the group, a role he’s played in many films with a clear degree of enjoyment. John C Reilly’s character, Michael, is the one that hides the most from the group early on and as you watch the gradual shift from decent husband/father to bigoted angry grump you see just why he is becoming so well regarded as an actor in comedies and more serious films such as We Need To Talk About Kevin. That film I’ll be reviewing soon. Jodie Foster does what she always does which is be very solid. She’s the member of the group that’s always trying to keep the idea of civil conversation going but even she has a breaking point. Like many peoples it’s when a guest vomits all over your coffee table.
Overall this is a damn fun film that may feel a lot like a play put on screen rather than it’s own film but it’s a joy as it is. If you gain some sort of morbid fun from watching well off people get brought down a peg or two you’ll get a kick out of this. If you don’t like that then you’ll be willing the Cowen’s to just step onto the elevator every time they attempt to leave the apartment. It may not be Polanski’s best work but it’s a great example of the themes he enjoys going over in his work. He loves building tension between characters out of their situation and that is pretty much what the entire film is about, that and the carnage that comes as a result.