Review: ‘Carnage’

'It’s beautifully acted, plays like a dream, and is probably Polanski’s best film since The Pianist.'

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Roman Polanski’s… Alright, alright, get it out of your system… Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage is based on a stage play and it doesn't try to hide it. The events of the film take place within the confines of a single apartment – and occasionally the hallway outside – and are told in real time over the film’s brief 79 minutes. But this isn’t a movie about talking heads, it’s a movie about the impossibility of maturity. The cast is a microcosm of “polite society,” a term Carnage considers an oxymoron. It’s beautifully acted, plays like a dream, and is probably Polanski’s best film since The Pianist.

The story couldn’t be simpler. Two little boys have a fight, forcing their respective parents to meet up to resolve the issue. The assailant’s parents are played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet as confident power couple; the victim’s parents by John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster as a pair of working class freethinkers. The matter of the fight is resolved, on paper at least, in the film’s opening minutes, but the bickering over semantics and parental values goes on and on. Waltz and Winslet try to leave but are repeatedly forced back into their host’s apartment for more unpleasant attempts at civility. It’s a little like the plot of The Exterminating Angel but without the excuse of surrealism.

The point is clear early on, that the maturity of adulthood thinly masks the pettiness of childhood squabbles. The fight on the playground was a quick altercation that ended as quickly as it began. But the efforts of the boys’ parents to “play nice” are a constant struggle of wills, and ultimately more painful to everyone involved. Every turn of phrase is scrutinized for a perceived, and often intentional insult, but nobody’s willing to actually have an argument. Instead of a brief shouting match that would have been over in minutes and left everyone feeling empowered, the events of Carnage are an emotional powder keg that only barely explodes. The disappointments, resentment, anger and humiliations are eventually laid bare, but nobody reaches a catharsis. Oh, for a good old-fashioned fist fight…

But the blunt message of the script, written by Polanski and the original playwright Yazmina Reza, is delivered via subtle and powerful performances and impressive nuance in the dialogue. Polanski keeps the film from feeling unnecessarily confined thanks to his usual director of photography Pawel Edelman, leaving the film feeling as cinematic as any globetrotting adventure despite the single location. The filmmakers deserve credit for taking an tiny concept and turning it into something meaningful and potent, and I deserve credit for getting through this entire review without a single Spider-Man joke. In the end, I think we’re all winners. See the film.