Co Written (Screenplay) and Directed: Roman Polanski
Co – Written (Screenplay) by: Yasmina Reza (based on her play by: “Le Dieu du carnage”)
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz
Two pairs of parents hold a meeting after their sons are involved in a fight. What starts out as a cordial round table discussion about conflict resolution and discipline gradually descends into (hilarious) chaos.
When I hear the name Roman (Chinatown, The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby) Polanski attached to a project – it immediately peaks my interest. Based on the play (and co-written) by Yasmina Reza, Carnage is an exploration into four individuals, two marriages and an incident in one small space that becomes infinitely muddier and more complex as more details are divulged. It’s a rollicking battle between logic and emotion, between good and (perceived) bad parenting, between introvert and extrovert, between right (?) and wrong (?) and finally a reflection on the intent of the incident and the intent of this attempted resolution.
Reza’s (and Polanski’s) script is tempered to perfection as civility tries in vein to veil strong and antagonistic personalties bashing against each other in the confined apartment space.
Polanski’s direction is unobtrusive in the opening stanza of the film, mirroring the original play: but Carnage gradually begins to relate and portray the character’s journey with the camera. The static wide angle static shots, complimented with ‘shot/reverse shots’ between the conversations are examples of classical/traditional cinematic language. It’s when the characters begin to lose their composure that the camera starts provide commentary on their dominance in the situation (looking up to the actors/characters) or underscoring their deterioration and withdrawal (looking down on the actors/characters). Polanski is a director with a reputation for extracting fantastic performances – and Carnage certainly is a performance master-class from a magnificent and eclectic but powerful group of performers.
Penelope Longstreet played by Jodie Foster is a liberal, stay home mother and writer that plays instigator for this meet up. Foster is able to portray this idealised civility that is punctuated contempt for violence. She starts to unravel as she perceives that the group isn’t taking the exercise seriously. It’s an accomplished neurotic performance from Foster – she really makes you dislike a character that ultimately is idealistic.
Kate Winslet plays Nancy Cowan, the trophy wife, demure character that spends a majority of the film attempting to divert her husband’s impulse to be argumentative. She’s the catalyst for the extension of their conversation and has a great journey (that I really don’t want to spoil).
Christoph Waltz plays Alan Cowan, a corporate lawyer that’s more interested in defusing a work problem over the phone than engaging in the discussion in more than a superficial way. He’s an argumentative and acid tongued little elitist who doesn’t let a single word escape Penelope’s mouth without keeping her mindful of how it can be perceived. It’s clear that he thinks that he’s better than the people he’s being forced to associate with – and he’s electric to watch. His journey has a surprise or two.
Finally, John C. Reilly plays Michael Longstreet the great ‘everyman’, pragmatic salesman attempting to resolve the issue but hilariously demonstrating that he’s doing it to keep his wife happy. It’s certainly a dramatic role for Reilly but as he begins to tire of the civility and decides to unwind with a scotch (which means the guests start drinking too) the event descends into madness.
Carnage is neatly directly, sharply scripted and outstandingly performed drama. It’s voyeuristic, it’s relevant and it’s hilarious.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman