Published on February 2nd, 2012 | by Jen McShane0
Movie Review: Polanski causes Carnage
When a collage of Oscar winning stars and an Oscar winning director get together for a project, you know the results are going to be good. Renowned director Roman Polanski’s latest comic clash of manners cuts through the everyday boundaries of civility to show us what really goes on when the walls come down. Carnage, based on Yasmine Reza’s hugely successful French play titled ‘God of Carnage,’ Polanski’s latest effort is a sharp satire that encompasses everything from marital strife to class values in one.
It starts off as a concerted effort by two sets of parents to discuss a fight between their respective offspring. Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) and husband Alan (Christoph Waltz) visit Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and her husband Michael (John C.Reilly) to discuss ‘the incident’, which involved one boy striking the other with a stick and knocking out two of his teeth. Relatively speaking, not a lot of action happens in the film’s refreshingly short 79 minute run. Civil pleasantries are exchanged, small talk is made and then it all spirals out of control during the course of their meeting. Whisky is drunk, peach cobbler is eaten (and spectacularly vomited up) and social standards go awry.
The couples’ polite veneer doesn’t last the first half an hour and, thanks to the unhelpful addition of a bottle of scotch to an already volatile situation, all social inhibitions are soon abandoned. Loyalties fall apart, unlikely alliances form (wives versus husbands, men versus women, three on one), masks are torn off and verbal, emotional carnage ensues.
The entire film takes place in one small Brooklyn apartment-themed set. Those of you who are familiar with Polanski’s early work will know that he is a master of using these small, claustrophobic sets to his advantage. Think of ‘Repulsion,’ ‘The Tenant’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ The single set works perfectly here and illustrates to the audience just how tense and uncomfortable each couple is with the situation.
They all try in vain to escape the claustrophobic restrains of the apartment space at various points in the film, but never quite make it out; they are always drawn back into the small space. Polanski’s aim, which is to tear down the walls of this idyllic middle-class apartment and expose the true nature of its inhabitants, is done with great success. The seemly perfect Cowan couple are exposed as uptight and emotionally distant from each other with Nancy freely admitting that her husband – who spends most of his time glued to a phone – doesn’t take interest in their son. The Longstreet’s are just as false with Michael admitting 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. All four cast members play their roles very very well, though I found the male actors more comfortable in their surroundings even though it was Winslet and Foster who were praised overall and received Globe nominations. Nonetheless, each of the actors brings a different comic element to the film.
The film’s high point is the classic vomit scene, which, according to a cast member, was made from Polanski’s own special recipe, and I rather enjoyed the back story of a little hamsters unfortunate demise. It’s very faithful to the play and with its over-the-top moments is a very different black comedy, if lacking the depth of the director’s earlier work. The film is designed to get the audience thinking and though it lacks the typical laugh-out-loud moments one would expect from a comedy, I found the film refreshing, funny and very enjoyable.
Carnage is in cinemas this Friday.