Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Yasmina Reza & Roman Polanski
(based on the play THE GOD OF CARNAGE by Yasmina Reza)
Starring: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz
CARNAGE feels more like a glorified stage production than an actual cinematic experience. The story is told in real time and set in the single location of apartment. Ironically, director Roman Polanski is familiar with stories taking place in an apartment. In fact, the man created a trio of horror films known as the “Apartment trilogy” (REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY, and THE TENANT). With CARNAGE, Polanski takes a swing out of his usually thriller niche and tackles comedy. He succeeds, because CARNAGE is a savagely funny comedy of manners and sophistication.
After two young boys get in a fight on the schoolyard, the parents of both children meet up to civilly discuss how the kids should apologize and resolve their differences. The meeting isn’t supposed to go on for too long and both sets of parents seem to friendly enough towards each other. Some coffee and a unique leftover cobbler is served, while the conversation begins to get a bit unstable. Determined to save face, both couples seem to feel that they must get their views across in a clear way. This results in the supposed short conversation exceeding a full hour and unrelated topics flow to the surface. The couples also begin to turn on each other in a verbal war and themselves.
Part of the reason that CARNAGE comes off as so radically funny is because there is a lot of truth to this scenario and the things being said. Parents should be protective of their children, but the question is raised to what degree. How far should a parent go to defend their child? At what point does this excuse for the parent’s behavior become unacceptable? Those are the main questions asked to the viewer in this film and the entire affair is done so comically well. Typical things that we see in everyday life are made far more funny when addressed in the cinematic artform. Haven’t we all known somebody who thought their cooking was way better than it actually was? How about somebody who is constantly annoying the people around them by chatting away on their phone every other minute? These are just two of the many moments that make for just how entertaining CARNAGE winds up being.
There are only four real characters seen onscreen for the entirety of the film. We do get a few muffled voices over the phone, but this full force the show of four different actors. Kate Winslet isn’t necessarily good here, but I found her performance tolerable enough. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly make a convincing couple, which makes some of the verbal sparring between them later on that much funnier to watch. The real standout of the show is Christoph Waltz as an uptight lawyer. A pissing contest he and John C. Reilly’s character get into makes for a highlight of the film.
Some might be turned off by the idea that this is a film revolving around four despicable, annoying people discussing a schoolyard fight. It’s so much better than the premise would probably have one believe. The melodramatic dialogue that populates the film covers all sorts of issues: the quirks of parenthood, the ideals of childhood, western values, customs, morals, impulses…even world peace at one point. The melodramatic tone of things being blown out of proportion (e.g. Jodie Foster’s character increasingly exaggerating her son’s injury) is the essence of this film. At times, it does come close to wearing out its novelty. Every single time I felt it was about to become a bore, I was sucked back in with another awkward moment.
By the downright poetic end of CARNAGE comes, things have gone from a simple schoolyard fight between two young boys to career competitions, debates about what constitutes real art, a battle between the husbands and wives, and frequently hilarious dialogue. It’s the ultimate in watching supposed civilized folk lower themselves to take jabs at those they see on an inferior level. CARNAGE is definitely not made for everybody. Those who have craving for this kind of witty humor will find themselves having a blast. Roman Polanski can do comedy and he can do it well! CARNAGE comes recommended for those who are interested in this kind of film!