Tuesday 3 January 2012

Movie Review: Carnage (2011)

A four-person character study, Roman Polanski's adaptation of the stage play God Of Carnage benefits from excellent performances but remains stage-bound and hand-cuffed by the necessity to extend a single meeting long enough to make a movie. With a few creaky moments, Carnage squeezes out 79 minutes of enjoyable and sometimes comic drama.

A schoolboy argument at a local New York City park results in Ethan Longstreet receiving a hefty stick in the face from fellow 11-year-old Zachary Cowan.  The parents meet for a supposedly mature and cordial discussion about the juvenile dispute. Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) Cowan visit Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) Longstreet with the intention of apologizing and planning a reconciliation between the kids.

The meeting shifts through a sequential gearbox: polite, tense, confrontational, and hostile, finally finding its level of comfort as a debacle. While the fault lines between the Longstreets and the Cowans are immediately apparent, it is the internecine conflicts within each couple that are more delightfully revealed.

Foster gets the showiest role as Penelope, an unapologetic liberal seeking high-minded solutions to every problem, comprehensively melting down upon being intellectually abandoned. Waltz has fun with Alan, a slippery and sarcastic corporate lawyer continuously distracted by his cell phone and greatly contributing to the carnage while adding mounting humour to the dysfunctional visit. Reilly's Michael is just one of the guys, the problem being that Penelope wants him to be so much more. Winslet delivers the most polished performance as Nancy, a professional woman simultaneously proud of her husband and disgusted by him.

Alcohol is introduced halfway through the visit, and it's a disappointment that a mind altering substance is allowed to trigger the more blatant abandonment of polite behaviour. The script by Polanski and Yasmina Reza (who wrote the play) does not show faith in the characters to honestly evolve and let loose without lubrication.

There are a few other rough spots in Carnage, as on several occasions the dialogue clumsily stretches to prolong the visit and retrieve the Cowans back from the elevator hallway and yet again into the Longstreet apartment. Polanski does not attempt to liberate the proceedings from the stage, with the film confined almost entirely to one room.

Carnage is more about the acting than the messaging, four performers enjoying a sparring session, their words sparkling with a hidden electricity when they collide in the New York air.

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