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Review: Carnage


Roman Polanski’s claustrophobia-inducing comedy cuts through the bogus tranquillity of married life...

A scene from Carnage, starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz...

Based on Yasmine Reza’s hugely successful French play, Roman Polanski’s latest effort is a sharp satire that encompasses everything from marital strife to class values.

What starts off as a concerted effort by two sets of parents to discuss a fight between their respective offspring  - the incident involved one boy striking the other with a stick and knocking out two of his teeth – spirals out of control during the course of their meeting.

The majority of the action in Carnage is set within the four walls of the Longstreet’s (played by John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) New York apartment. This is where they debate the incident that has brought the Cowans, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, to their home. The film, which lasts a breezy 80 minutes, is shot in real-time and follows the initially suppressed but eventually overwrought verbal exchanges between the two couples.

A still of the Cowans, played by Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly...Despite lacking any laugh-out-loud moments, the film does manage to shock and unhinge in equal measure. Locked within this small space the originally timid personalities of the protagonists mutate into larger than life personas. Even as they try to escape this domain by coming to a forced settlement over the dispute, they are inevitably drawn back in. Meanwhile, the argument between the two couples escalates to the point where each individual is verbally attacking the other.

Polanski’s aim is to tear down the walls of this idyllic middle-class apartment and expose the true nature of its inhabitants. Therefore, whereas it is Winslet and Waltz that seem at first to be the unhappy ones - he is always on the phone and she complains about his lack of interest in their son - Foster and C. Reilly are eventually exposed as just as false. C.Reilly even admits this when he states that his wife “dressed him as a liberal” for the occasion.

For a film that is built upon dialogue, the acting inevitably takes centre stage. The actors must carry the film and, to a certain extent, they do. It’s a mixed bag of performances and surprisingly it is the male characters that seem more comfortable in their surroundings. Both men display an acute sense of comic timing and often outdo their female co-stars; Waltz with his nonchalant portrayal of the obnoxious attorney Alan Cowan and C.Reilly as the out-of-his-depth average joe.

Nonetheless it is great to see Foster once again playing a ‘real’ character after starring in countless dull thrillers. However, it must be noted that as the film continues along its chaotic path she ends up shouting most of her lines and does not seem comfortable in her character’s skin.

As mentioned earlier the nature of the source material in Carnage is restrictive in its visual scope, but Polanski still manages to experiment with sound in an effective manner. The director’s playful use of external noise and the continuous focus on a character’s mobile phone as an annoying distraction heightens the tension in what could otherwise have been dull scenes. Additionally, despite lacking any physical action, certain moments in the film are still violently over the top – in particular a gross-out sequence halfway through the film that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Judd Apatow comedy. Therefore it is great to see that Polanski has lost none of his grotesque humour. Fans of the director will also enjoy the final shot, a trademark Polanski scene which exemplifies the futility of what has gone before.

It has been noted that Carnage is remarkably faithful to the play that it is based on. This is not surprising considering that Reza worked on the adaptation with Polanski. As a result much of the dialogue remains in tact and the action is constricted to the sole apartment setting. These limitations make Carnage an arguably slighter film within the director’s legendary cannon of work. All things considered, however, it is still a refreshingly intelligent comedy that is intent on challenging the preconceptions of its viewers.

3 stars


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