In Polanski’s Carnage the tediousness of middle class life and the fragilities of marriage are explored with a sharp wit and self-awareness that is reminiscent of the films of Woody Allen and Mike Leigh.
This film all takes place in the New York apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster, John C Reilly), where Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) are meeting to discuss an incident in which their son Zachary (Elvis Polanski) hits the Longstreet’s son with a stick.
The clue is in the film’s title as to what happens from there on in as the brittle foundations of the couple’s relationships collapse and chaos reigns. This may not sound like the set up to a great comedy but the film is in fact brilliantly funny.
There is an element of slapstick comedy within the film, involving Kate Winslet and a particularly unpleasant ‘cobbler’, and the attempted destruction of a mobile phone but most of laughs come in the shape of the film’s clever and insightful script. There is a brilliant dry sense of humour, which is well suited to the talents of both Waltz and Reilly. Kate Winslet has become somewhat typecast as the reserved and put upon wife (Mildred Pearce, Revolutionary Road), but here she takes a similar character and has fun with it, as Nancy Cowan becomes more and more hysterical throughout the film. Reilly also appears to enjoy himself playing against type as Michael Longstreet, who at first seems sensitive and gentle but gradually reveals his true colours. Jodie Foster also deserves credit for her performance as the somewhat comical Penelope Longstreet, who seems to embody all the stereotypes of a liberal middle class parent or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘ chattering classes’. Penelope writes books on the tragedy of Darfur from the comfort of her New York apartment, lecturing others on how lucky they are to be in a first world country; yet crying hysterically when her precious art books are damaged. Waltz plays Alan Cowan with glee, an arrogant opinionated solicitor full of his own self-importance, continuing his successful run of form of playing unpleasant characters.
It is testament to the talents of the cast that these characters, who in lesser actors’ hands could have been rather one dimensional, remain engaging and interesting throughout the film and sympathetic despite their apparent lack of likeability.
As I have mentioned the script deserves credit however it feels as though some of the dialogue was improvised which is refreshing and gives the film much needed energy but occasionally results in ‘ hit-miss’ dialogue with some of the character arcs working better than others.
Carnage is adapted from the French play ‘Le Dieu du Carnage’; confined to the couple’s New York apartment it feel more suited to that medium. It is wonderful to marvel at the lightning quick banter between the actors but film, after all, is a visual medium and it is frustrating to see a visionary director such as Roman Polanski trapped in one room.
Overall, it’s a clever film showing four actors at their top of the game and it’s fantastic to see the underrated John C Reilly being given some more challenging roles, something that will continue to happen in the future if he remains in this form.