Carnage (2011)

Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Yasmina Reza & Roman Polanski

Stage plays are great to witness. Regrettably I have not been to many in my life, especially outside the school productions I was nearly obligated to attend at times. But I think their effectiveness comes from the often close quarters under which they are held. There is something about the short amount of time in which they unfold that always make them feel more explosive and more natural. Roman Polanski’s new film, Carnage, is such a stage play. Based on Yasmina Reza’s play Gods of Carnage, Polanski brings together a great cast of actors to tell this story. The stage comedy is not something I have seen much of, at least I struggle to come up with a couple examples off hand which were adapted to the big screen. As for dramas, Glengarry Glen Ross and 12 Angry Men are two that immediately come to mind which feature great actors in confined spaces. on the big screen.

In this tale, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) are hosting the Cowan’s, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz), at their apartment. The reason for the meeting is that the Cowan’s son struck the Longstreet’s with a stick in Brooklyn Bridge Park, resulting in the loss of two teeth and potential nerve damage. This information makes the formality and politeness of the meeting all the more surprising. But soon enough the couples begin to stand their ground even more on the issue at hand, fighting for their kids and standing up for them. This causes the proceedings to move from formal and polite to a riotous affair.

As a comedy, none of it ever insists upon itself in terms of being overly dramatic and socially important, which may alienate some when dealing with the subject of children’s violence, but when taken for face value as the bickering between two sets of parents in the day and age when political correctness rules the day, it is a very funny film, and one which showcases the talent of everyone involved. The cast is complete with 4 Oscars among them, and each actor has been nominated for the award. Their chemistry on screen is a beauty to behold and the way in which they seem to play off of each other is wonderful. The ladies of the film have each been nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, but I don’t think I would hold any of the four performances above the others. They just worked well as a team.

And part of that team was the director Roman Polanski, whose staging of the film was equally brilliant to the performances he got from his cast. I love films like this which unfold in confined space in a short, natural amount of time. The whole film feels like one really long take, even though it isn’t, simply because there is never any time jump. The way Polanski positions the actors about the small New York apartment and the way he moves them about like chess pieces aides the comedic and dramatic tension of the film and helps make the comedy all the more effective.

The screenplay is wonderful too, creating some great “big” moments which make the relationships between each of the characters that much more strained, which again, helps with how funny the film can become. I am not sure, however, that the film reaches for anything deeper than perhaps utilizing this type of situation for comedic enjoyment. Perhaps Polanski is commenting on the ridiculousness of political correctness is certain situations like where one son is harmed by another, where parents act “fake” and put up a facade for the benefit of being polite when in reality honesty can be the best dose of medicine. Just some food for thought, but for me the film succeeded for the simple fact that it was funny, and it was funny because of what the cast did with their talent and with the material, and more especially because they did it in the pressure cooker of a small apartment.

***1/2 – Great


1 comment

  1. I wanted to see this one even though I don't like Polanski as a person, I can't help liking his films. I, like you, like the idea of a claustrophobic film that's set in just one location.

    I think I'll have to wait until it's released on DVD/BR so hopefully I won't miss out on too much just seeing it at home


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