CARNAGE (director: Roman Polanski; screenwriter: from the play The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza/Yasmina Reza; cinematographer: Pawel Edelman; editor: Hervé de Luze; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Kate Winslet (Nancy Cowan), Christoph Waltz (Alan Cowan), Jody Foster (Penelope Longstreet), John C. Reilly (Michael Longstreet); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Saïd Ben Saïd; Sony Picture Classics; 2011)
“I thought the highlight of the film was after the guests eat Foster’s homemade fruit cobbler, Winslet vomits over hubby and Foster’s precious coffee table books.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Roman Polanski (“Rosemary’s Baby”/”Knife in the Water”/”Chinatown”) adapts French writerYasmina Reza’s claustrophobic acerbic one-note comedic playThe God of Carnage, about two seemingly progressive middle-class couples trying to iron out in a civilized way a brawl between their two eleven-year-old boys without the presence of the boys or neutral arbitrators. The controversial French-Polish director, not allowed to be in America due to a long-standing warrant for rape, moves the setting from Paris to Brooklyn.
A brawl in Brooklyn Bridge Park has Zachary, the son of smug cynical corporate lawyerAlan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and the stressed-out enabler investment broker Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet), bash with a stick and knockout two teeth of Ethan, the son of the oafish anti-intellectual household supplier businessman Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) and the shrill hypercritical liberal writer/bookstore clerk Penelope Longstreet (Jody Foster). The two couples meet for the first time in the victim’s luxury high-rise apartment and try to hash things out in a civilized way to find a way to resolve the situation in a fair-minded way. What goes initially smoothly over saying trite small talk soon deteriorates as the talk moves into a more vicious inner nature among the foursome and they haggle over whose to blame and become increasingly less generous in their views to each other. The parlor game drama never leaves the apartment, as tension grows exposing the foursome as not particularly likable sorts, in fact when you get to know them by the end they all appear as monsters, and their veneer of civility is removed when push comes to shove. Alan is so self-absorbed that he spends a great deal of the time while in the apartment on the cellphone talking business with his underlings and makes no pretense he cares about the injured boy. Though viewed as a shit, at least he’s seems the most honest about where he’s at.
I thought the highlight of the film was after the guests eat Foster’s homemade fruit cobbler, Winslet vomits over hubby and Foster’s precious coffee table books. All the other provocations, vain arguments and character issues raised seemed too superficial to hit one in the guts as a real blow for humanity, as the four characters are locked into their dark sides and are all unforgiving despite trying to get over as caring people. It all seemed like goofy dramatics and an actor’s vehicle to see if it were possible for the talented cast to get more out of such a limited script than possible, but at least under Polanski’s tight direction there is no chance for stealing the film by acting over the top. Since the play, which reached Broadway in 2009, was able to draw comedy out of such an upper middle class farcical attempt to reconcile an unpleasant dispute and the film was only able to register shock at the mundane incident, it would seem that the film version was the lesser of the two versions (I say that without ever seeing the play, which might be unfair but the play was acclaimed for its comedy while the film is more ridiculous than humorous).
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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