Review by Nathan Samdahl (B+)
Carnage is one of those deliciously uncomfortable films that makes you squirm in your seat but crave for more. Adapted from the stage play "God of Carnage", Carnage tells the story of two couples attempting to be civil in the wake of a school altercation between their two sons, in which one hit the other in with a stick. In the face. Minus the opening shot (which shows the incident), the entire film plays out in the apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), the victim's parents. Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), the perpetrator's parents, must eat humble pie (both literally and figuratively) to try to smooth out the situation.
With such cramped storytelling quarters, it's only a matter of time before the niceties fade away and civil veneers crumble, leaving two diametrically opposed couples at each others' throats. However, schisms also quickly form within each couple as long repressed feelings are brought to the surface. Can't get any better than that.
Director Roman Polanski and the design team compensate for the lack of locations by making the Longstreet's apartment feel incredibly homey and lived in, yet with a cold edge to it. Its more modern, sleek design almost seems counter to the couple's fairly grounded and humble professions (she is a writer, he is a wholesaler).
The foursome come together to create some incredible moments. After eating the "best" cobbler ever, Winslet's release of her stomach on Foster's coffee table and prized rare edition book is priceless. But it is Christoph Waltz who once again steals the show. A high powered lawyer in the film, Waltz's character would prefer to be anywhere else and proves this by rudely and comically answering his phone throughout the proceedings, much to the growing displeasure of the others.
The film's downside is that its scope and setting allow for minimal opportunities for it to be elevated cinematically. It still plays and looks very much like a play, albeit a damned good one. It's for this reason that it will be unlikely that Carnage will be recognized in anything other than the acting categories this award season.
In what's proving to be the weakest year in a decade, Carnage doesn't reverse that fact. It's not Polanski's best nor is it likely to bowl over audiences, but with the myriad of movies trying too hard to be good (can anyone say J. Edgar?), Carnage delivers in its best possible way. You can only go so wrong with four of the best actors in the world going head to head.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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