Imagine a middle class version of Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle. Swap the Blue WKD for eighteen year old, single malt Scotch, the tracksuits for sharp suits and sharper tongues. Takeaway the child with six possible fathers and introduce an argument regarding a child’s fight and you have Carnage, the brilliant new film from Roman Polanski.
Set in Brooklyn though filmed in
due to Polanski’s ongoing legal problems, Carnage is set around two middle class couples meeting to discuss an altercation between their eleven year old sons. Almost the entire film takes place in the Paris Brooklyn apartment of Michael and Penelope Longstreet who are played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. They are joined by Alan and Nancy Cowen, played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, whose son is seen attacking the Longstreet’s boy in the films opening scene.
What starts off as a civil conversation, albeit with subtle antagonistic undertones soon unravels into a hostile; vomit strewn mess with arguments covering everything from hamsters to
Darfur by way of toilet flush mechanisms. The angst of middle class political correctness is felt as both sides desperately try to remain calm and polite while losing control of their tongues more and more with every sentence. One of the best things about the script is how the arguing and bickering isn’t contained between the two couples. Every now and then it will switch so that perhaps it is three against one or drawn on gender lines. This enriches the film and stops it from stagnating. It is often when one person in particular is turned upon by two or three of the others that they shine, John C. Reilly for instance although excellent throughout, is at his best when backed into a corner by Winslet and Foster.
The acting on the whole is outstanding and the ensemble cast works very well together. Each actor is given at least a couple of moments when they can come to the fore and show what they’ve got but the other three are always ready and waiting in the middle distance for their turn. If I had to choose I’d say that Kate Winslet gives the best performance overall but both Reilly and Foster have scenes where they are sublime. Waltz, plays the role of an arrogant, slightly slimy lawyer who never fails to say what he thinks and while I don’t believe this is a stretch for him, he plays it rather well, especially considering he is not performing in his first language. Inglorious Basterds was no fluke.
What adds to the wonderful script and acting is the setting. While the apartment helps to intensify the tension and feeling that all are trapped, it never feels overly claustrophobic. On a few occasions, the Cowen’s are on the verge of leaving and get as far as the elevator. You can feel yourself urging them to get in and run but something always stops them. This is both adds to the tension and is comical.
If I did have one complaint about the film it would be in its marketing. The trailer features a scene in which a mobile phone is ‘disposed of’. The phone plays an integral part in altering the casts emotions during the film and each time Waltz answered it I was waiting for what I’d seen in the trailer. This distracted me somewhat as I was thinking to myself “this must be it…” each time I saw it emerge from his inside jacket pocket. While this isn’t a major problem, it annoys me when films give away too much in a trailer. Christoph Waltz’s and John C. Reilly’s reaction to what we see makes up for having seen it so many times however, is one of the funniest parts of the film and also where it turns into Carnage.