Review: Carnage

Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by:Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Released: March 1, 2012
Grade: B-

It’s an impressive cast.  I’ll say that much.  Academy Award winning director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) has brought Oscar winners Jodie Foster (Silence Of The Lambs), Kate Winslet (The Reader) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds).  John C. Reilly (Chicago) joins them as just a “lowly” Oscar nominee.

I can describe Carnage rather simply – it’s an 80 minute conversation.  It is set entirely within an apartment building and the whole movie is spent watching these four characters interact.  It begins with Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) dropping by the home of Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) to discuss an altercation between their children in a nearby park.

They each have a different viewpoint on the matter and what begins as a friendly, civil discussion degenerates into a complete farce.  It’s as if they’re all trying to use the power of intelligent conversation to get the upper hand, twisting the words of their opponent like a skilful politician.  When a bottle of 18-year-old scotch is opened mid-way through the film, things get a little looser.

The film is based on the successful play from Yasmina Reza.  It started out as a small production in Zurich before moving onto the loftier heights of Paris, London and New York.  The Broadway version starred Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden.  It took home 3 Tony Awards in 2009 including best play and best leading actress (Harden).

Perhaps this story works better on stage… but I honestly don’t know what all the fuss is about.  The story felt so horribly contrived.  Nancy and Alan keep trying to end the debate and leave the apartment.  They even make it to the elevator in one scene.  However, for some strange reason, they keep getting drawn back in.  It just didn’t feel natural.

I’d say the same for the dialogue.  Each character seems to be rushing through their arguments and it’s as if every single word has been over thought.  I got tired of watching the momentum shift back and forth between them.  They’d all gang up on someone in the room… only for the situation to reverse a few minutes later.  If you think it’s leading up to a huge, unexpected finale then think again.

It’s hard to describe the genre but I guess it falls into the comedy category.  As disappointed as I was with the film’s overall execution, I did enjoy the humorous insults.  Christoph Waltz gets the best of the material with his rude, arrogant portrayal of Alan.  You can see from the opening scene that he’s sized up the situation and won’t be taking any nonsense.

Overlooked throughout much of the recent awards season, Carnage will have to work hard if it’s to find an audience.