Roman Polanski’s new film, Carnage, is a witty, fast paced ensemble piece, based on Yasmin Reza’s stage play. I have long wished to see a successful adaptation from theatre to screen and this does not disappoint. Supported by a brilliant choice of cast, the film subtly explores the psychology of everyday man and woman.
The unfolding drama takes place in a New York apartment, the monotony of set highlighting building, suffocating claustrophobia and tension within the script. Two seemingly respectable couples meet to discuss what disciplinary action is to be taken after a dispute between their sons. Instead what occurs is a series of volatile exchanges between all four characters, revealing the complicated façades behind which each hides. The slow disintegration is hilarious in its vulgarity, yet tinged with pathos as truths are exposed through drunken confrontation. Carnage cleverly portrays the fake civility within a forced situation, the two couples ultimately resorting to vindictive argument far nastier than their children’s original “crime”.
The excruciating stiffness of the opening scene is beautiful to behold. The Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) excel as a wealthy, but diffident couple, straining to be polite. Their laboured efforts are contrasted with the apparently more relaxed and genial behaviour of the apartment’s owners, the Longstreets, acted by Jodie Foster and the brilliant John Reilly. Carnage is an acute study of human natural flaws and weaknesses through four contrasting voices. Sitting in the cinema, it was possible to recognise nuances of personality, which made the characters compelling and believable.
Waltz (Alan Cowan) surpasses in his role as the elegantly nonchalant lawyer and shrewd observer. His life is dictated by an obsessive relationship with his BlackBerry and we get the feeling this is the sole means he can convince himself of his own worth. With each sarcastic utterance from Waltz, we are led closer to the farcical conclusion of this film. Foster similarly excels, unfailingly blending humour with each of her angry outbursts. The desecration of the art books is perfectly caught in her bulbous, straining face as she spits out each word.
By the end, I felt like I had witnessed an absurd puppet show, the ludicrous behaviour of each character lending an element of the grotesque to their middle class lives. The script is Pinter-esque in its close examination of human behaviour and I question whether the heavy emphasis on humour throughout, at times detracted from, rather than enhanced. Despite this, I found Carnage – as with all Polanski films – innovative. He allows us to revel in a satisfyingly malicious, but increasingly disastrous turn of events, the fine balance between vicious humour and intense confrontation making for an exhilarating watch.
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