Film & TV

Review – Carnage

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.

Edward Haynes

Film & TVFilm Reviews

Tom is a budding film reviewer, hell bent on providing informed opinions on the latest movie releases to those who need them, whether they like it or not.
3 Comments on this post.
  • Deb
    6 February 2012 at 14:34
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    What were the negative features of the film? For a 3 star review, I was expecting there to be some real criticisms. Is the fact it’s limited to one room really worth docking 2 stars? This is a simply curious question btw, I haven’t seen the film myself, I was hoping to gain a clearer insight into whether it’s worth going to see.

  • Edward Haynes
    7 February 2012 at 13:28
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    @Deb its worth seeing its not a bad film. The acting is good but its very much a film if you enjoy seeing actors playing with a character, there is not a long else going on cinematography wise etc. Its type of film you see once and think yeah that was good but don’t particularly want to see it again. I tend to feel a film only deserves five stars if its a masterpiece, and four stars if its really amazing.( leaves you in the cinema thinking about for a long time or laughing depending on the genre) I tend to be quite harsh with the star ratings anyways. Also it was a Polanksi Film so I had very high expectations. Also it seemed like some parts of the film were improvised which didn’t always work which is what I meant by’ Hit-miss’ dialogue, that’s what I thought was the major negative of the film.

    Its worth seeing though

    Hope that helped 🙂

  • Cat
    7 February 2012 at 17:32
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    Nicely done Eddy! This is a really good review, and after seeing the trailer for this film, and the enigmatic cast behind it, I have high expectations. I really admire how you’ve weighed the pros and cons- I agree that the nature if the scenery may crowd the talented actors, but this isn’t the first time Polanski has trapped himself in an apartment. Indeed his ‘trilogy’ of “Repulsion”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Tenant” demonstrate that he can effectively create and escalate high drama and intrigue in such enclosed spaces. I think we can now get excited about him going back to his claustrophobic roots 🙂 Really excited to see it, and congrats again! 🙂

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