Saturday, 11 February 2012


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Much like Closer, Mike Nicholls' 2004 adaptation of the Patrick Marber stageplay, Carnage, adapted from the hit French play, God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, centres on four people you are happy to spend time with in a cinema but wouldn't want the misfortune of encountering for a prolonged period of time in the real world.

In Closer, it was the sexual mores between men and women that was under examination. In Carnage, Roman Polanksi's fun and succinct film (a swift 80 minutes), it's the thin facade of civility which we in the West construct around ourselves to convince others -- and ourselves -- just how evolved we are, and just how quickly that facade crumbles when put to the test.

When one boy takes to another with a stick, damaging his face and a couple of teeth, the parents of both boys meet to discuss the situation. That meeting takes place in the New York apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly): she's a writer-of-sorts with a penchant for a cause (currently Darfur), and he's the owner of a high-end hardware store who appears jovial enough but may not be as liberal as his wife (or as his wardrobe suggests).

The other couple are Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) Cowan, an investment banker and corporate attorney, respectively. It was their son who was the aggressor so they're naturally more contrite during the meeting, and somewhat more forgiving of Penelope's choice of loaded words and her tone in delivering them.

Well, Nancy is. Alan is more preoccupied with his mobile as he conducts crisis management for a pharmaceutical client throughout the mediation, which not before long breaks down into recriminations: couple versus couple, ideology versus ideology, and eventually, spouse versus spouse.

With an obvious influence being playwright Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where an alcohol-fuelled evening brings two marriages to a head, Carnage adopts a more comic tone as it takes a knife to both the Longstreets and Cowans, and white, middle class self satisfaction and first world problems generally.

And it's good fun. Polanski, shooting in just the one New York city apartment setting (though not actually NY, given the director's legal troubles), may not overcome the material's obvious stage origins but the four actors definitely bring the material to life.

Foster's Penelope, almost imploding with self righteousness and anal retentiveness, and Winslet's Nancy, whose inhibitions and tongue loosen up with the help of alcohol and an empty stomach (easily the film's best moment), get the best of the material.

Not that the guys are slacking off. Waltz, finally escaping Hollywood typecasting as the villain without necessarily dispensing with the menace, underplays Alan's contempt if not his arrogance, while Reilly, seemingly out of his depth at first, comes into his own in the film's second half, when the gloves come off and the pretense of civility is shattered.

If ultimately Polanski's Carnage isn't as satisfying a whole as those individual elements -- by all accounts Reza's play pops in a live theatre -- both its brevity and levity are reasons enough to indulge it as an entertaining diversion.

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