Carnage – Review

There is probably not another figure in cinema with the same notoriety as Polish film director Roman Polanski. From directing acclaimed films such as Rosemary’s Baby and the all-time classic Chinatown to his upbringing in Nazi occupied Poland, the murder of his Girlfriend Sharon Tate by the Manson Family, and fleeing the US authorities in the mid Seventies to avoid a statutory rape charge, his life and career have been the subject of much interest. Since the late Seventies, the director has been living and working in Europe producing interesting if not always excellent films. Following on from 2010 international hit, The Ghost, we have his latest film, Carnage.

Based on a French play, Le Dieu du carnage, this is the story of two couples trying to cordially resolve an issue. The opening scene shows two children in a park having an argument resulting in one striking the other with a stick. We then cut to the apartment of the victim where the boys’ parents, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C Reilly) are discussing the incident with the aggressor’s parents  Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet).  The initial discussions are very civilized. Both sets of parents are in agreement as to the cause and who is to blame. It is only when Alan and Nancy are leaving, actually in the hall outside the flat, does a chance remark with slightly confrontational language from Penelope causes a disagreement. In an attempt to clear this up and with the offer of coffee and pie the couples return to the apartment to work it out. The cordial atmosphere soon disappears as more differences surface due to underlying prejudices and pre-existing character failings. Arguments and a heightened tension starts begin between couples and individuals. The differences that arise are not always between the couples with gender and personal opinions informing the allegiances that spring up. Just as you think a conclusion is being reached something else comes up to increase the tension.

For almost all of the short eighty minutes run time the only people on-screen are the four characters. There are no other faces at all, only the occasional voice at the other end of a telephone conversation. The movie very much shows its stage origins. That is not to say that it is not enjoyable.  To move it away from its origins would not have benefited the film and the director wisely chose to film it in that way. There is cracking, witty dialogue that allows all of the actors to stretch their acting muscles. The film swings from comedic to dramatic and back often within the same scene. Each character is well-rounded and there is a lot of scope for each actor to shine either on their own or against the other actors. All of the actors rise to this in impressive style. There are no weak links in this at all which is a surprise. Usually, at least one actor is pushed out of the spotlight due to the lack of depth to their character or the scene-chewing of another of the actors.

The direction is subtle with no gimmicks or easily identified styles or methods to distract the viewer from the story. The strength of the writing and the performances are more than enough to carry the film. There is virtually no music used for the same reason.

A very good film showcasing how good actors can be with the right material. Highly recommended.

John McArthur
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