Directed by Roman Polanski
Carnage is the most uncomfortable picture Roman Polanski has ever shot in a single room? (Look back to March 1977 and you’ll get it).
It’s stuffy, dry, and only peppered with humor, not like a good comedy should be. But Carnage is filled to the brim with the profoundest profundities about bullying, marriage, and life that any dramedy can possibly hold, an interesting, humanized, thoughtful story that was either too stupid or too brave to venture far from its roots on the stage.
A genial visit occurs between two upper-crust couples, the parents of two children that recently got into a playground scuffle that left one missing a tooth. Soon their differences begin to show, at which point it becomes a disgraceful battle of the sexes.
With only four cast members that make an appearance and have any lines, Carnage is nothing…seriously, nothing…without its stars. As the cultured mother of a young boy recovering from a vicious bully attack, Jodie Foster is…well, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, but I found the performance out of place. She can’t seem to pull off even slightly comical lines as well as the others, but when the tensions rise she finds her niche. As her faux-cultured husband, John C. Reilly rides the same boat. He begins awkwardly, without the comic mischief we expect, but when the jokes start to fly he shines.
On the other side of the ring, Christoph Waltz is a knockout punch that leaves you slightly annoyed but smiling anyway. As the workaholic father of the aggressor, Waltz shows a humorous side that we haven’t seen before. His wife, played by Kate Winslet, is less memorable. She has a dramatic presence, but doesn’t seem as versatile as Waltz. It’s like that maddening professor that gives you an exam with only four questions, so one miss lands you a C. I wouldn’t say Winslet is a total loss, but with only four characters it’s important that they are all at the top of their games.
Based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, Carnage obviously drew heavily from its roots. But with stars like Ralph Fiennes, Marcia Gay Harden, Janet McTeer, Jeff Daniels, and James Gandolfini playing the roles of the parents in well-received London and New York productions, why not pull from their experience? Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy, Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker, and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire are just a few of the stars that took their theater roles with them to the big screen and did exceptionally well.
Right at the height of the tension, Carnage’s 80 minute runtime reaches its sputtering end. While at times Carnage can feel stuffy and contained, its brilliant performances and interesting script help control your own frequent urges to leave the room.