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Carnage Movie Review - -


    Reviewed by Damien Straker on February 9th, 2012
presents a film directed by Roman Polanski
    Screenplay by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski, based on the play
    "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza

Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph    
    Waltz and Kate Winslet

    Running Time:
79 mins
    Rating: M
    Released: March 1st, 2012




Carnage opens with two young boys having an argument. We can't hear what they are saying but we can see that it is erupting, until one of the boys picks up a stick and smacks the other one in the mouth. Cutting to the inside of an apartment and we see two groups of parents arguing over a letter they are writing about the incident. Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster) are the parents of the victim and Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet) know that their son hit the other child. The course of the film is spent in this apartment room with the two groups bickering over who is responsible but also philosophising about life and morality itself. Alliances between the parents regularly shift and change and the tension is thickened, particularly when the discussions are constantly interrupted by Alan answering his phone.

Take extra note of the opening long shot of the boys playing and then arguing at the start of Carnage. They're framed in the background so that we can't hear what they are saying. This is a very smart opening to a highly economical film because it aligns us with the parents perspective. Just like them there's distance between us and the kids. This lends the film a wonderfully ironic spin because for all of the arguing over this short film, it runs just under eighty minutes, there's nothing that can be proven or resolved. Instead, director Roman Polanski who has adapted the play 'God of Carnage' by Yasmina Reaz, continues to show his interest in confined spaces and tension within small areas. Polanski is a holocaust survivor and many of his films, including this one, are reflective of deep psychological conflict, visualised through claustrophobia. Although there are very long stretches of dialogue here, since the film is restricted to one setting with just a few extra rooms, I found that a lot of the film was hysterically funny. This is because the talented cast are working with material that is both smart and witty. You really have to listen to what they are talking about because it is not all inane banter. As with all good comedy, the dialogue is always purposeful, whether the parents are arguing about the most pedantic word in a sentence or their own philosophical values. What's amazing about the film is just how much is revealed about the characters in such a small amount of time. It's a huge lesson in economical storytelling. We have a sense that both Michael and his wife are a middleclass couple, who try to be pleasant and are seemingly interested in culture and arts. By contrast, Alan and his wife are all about business as he is a lawyer and she's a stockbroker. Alan seems entirely disinterested in the situation, hilariously answering his phone for most of the movie. He even admits at one point: "Our son is a maniac". He is a total nihilist, recalling the time that he has spent time in the Congo, so that a child losing too teeth means little to him.

Also fascinating throughout the film is the way that alliances constantly shift and change over its duration. Michael and his wife appear warm at first but she's cultured but he's a salesman of toilet accessories. We also learn that John had his own gang in school and also removed his daughters pet hamster and lied about it too. Maybe he isn't so warm and friendly? Part of the fun is when the gender wars start as both he and Alan gang up on their wives, enjoying scotch and cigars together. You can imagine the boys ganging up on the girls in the playground just like this. Waltz is a master of balancing this quiet intensity and menace with a razor sharp comic edge. At one point he has a very tense standoff with Reilly, which makes their eventual alliance more surprising and funny. Jodi Foster is outstanding too as a woman who is so desperate to try and be diplomatic but becomes increasingly hysterical. You can see the anguish building right throughout her whole neck. The point of the film is that adults can be very much like children and that sometimes the kids just have to work it out themselves. We see that in the way they fight but also how they trash each other's toys. Something happens to that phone that makes Alan's whole world crumble and it's the same with some of Penelope's art books too. Polanski has photographed the film very simply and elegantly through a wide lens so that he captures the furnishings of the apartment, like the books neatly stacked on the shelves and lined up on the coffee table. It is within this stabilised room that chaos breaks out. Perhaps concealing the film to a single room is representative of the way that the adult world can never reach or resolve the child's playground. It's a modest little comedy, with big laughs, but I think it will test a lot of people with those long verbal stretches. I enjoyed the film a lot and was surprised by its class, intelligence and irony but I wouldn't want it to be any longer.


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