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France/Germany/Poland/Spain 2011
Directed by
Roman Polanski
79 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Two schoolboys have an altercation and one hits the other with a stick. The perpetrator’s parents, Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) pay a visit to the victim’s parents, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly.) The four aim to discuss things in a civilised and amicable fashion. What follows is anything but.

Carnage has come from a stage play whose author, Yasmina Reza, has adapted it for the screen. The God of Carnage was performed by the MTC a couple of seasons ago and I just loved the delicious, malicious way it handled its characters. Full credit must go to Reza’s rewrite and to the four excellent actors who take her text and run with it, giving full vent to an extraordinary array of emotions. For me, this film is great fun, but of the sort that has one wincing and squirming in one’s seat between gleeful chortles. One can certainly question whether plays make good films, particularly when set in the confines of one tastefully-decorated room, but in this case the performances are so fine that they carry the show. Veteran director Polanski keeps a firm rein on proceedings so that the chaos is set at the optimum level.

It’s perversely wonderful to see so-called civilised people descend into the sort of behaviour usually associated with kids. When parents discuss their children, even if they hope to be bipartisan, blame will often be attributed, with both sides leaping to their own child’s defence. And so this strained meeting of adults gradually descends, via initial niceties, then lubricated by too much whisky, into a state of emotional, and occasionally physical, carnage.

The characters are diverse. Michael is a salesman, apparently humble and lacking affectation, and he is initially the placatory one, much to his wife’s disgust. Alan is a self-important lawyer who is wedded to his mobile phone. The discussions are constantly interrupted by ongoing calls, in which he talks loudly, snorts, and we, the audience, loathe him and his puffed-up pomposity. Penelope is a bleeding heart liberal – full of sanctimonious and politically-correct attitudes – but only on the surface as underneath she is snide and cutting whilst Nancy is an up-tight socialite type.  During the course of their meeting, alliances shift, with individual parties taking it in turn to swap alliances, the men vs the women, one couple vs the other.  The audience also shifts sympathies with each character, as each reveals a different aspect of themselves so well brought out by the wonderful acting ability of each star. No one stands out from the other and it is little surprise that as an ensemble cast they received a Boston Critics award.

There is not a lot more to say about this film that will not spoil your fun, but if the merry dance of human folly is your bag, then this is a most worthwhile film to see.




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