With an incredibly strong cast of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C Reilly, Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage is so entertaining that it’s searing. It’s an absolute joy to watch the actors pour acid on the carefully molded artificial wholesome morality of modern society.
The film is based on Yasmina Reza's Tony Award-winning hit French play God of Carnage, and it takes place in a single location (an apartment) in real time. And just like in the stage play that starred Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden, the lure of Carnage is being treated to great actors playing suburban couples who attack each other as if they are on a more placid version of Bigg Boss.
The story is rather simple - Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) visit the apartment of Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) because the formers’ kid had punched the latters’ at a school playground, knocking out his teeth. Both couples decide to meet and sort out the issue like responsible, mature parents - they begin with having coffee and dessert over a casual chat. But the chat turns into minor disagreements, and then escalates to straightforward mocking, and then to uproarious full blast boxing matches.
To make things more complicated internal tensions between the couples begin to boil to the surface. Alan seems to continuously answer phone calls, much to the annoyance of his wife. He also openly boasts his big job as a lawyer and makes fun of Michael’s plumbing profession. The crass Penelope ridicules Alan and Nancy's careless approach to parenting and loses her mind when her husband reaches the peak of his stupidity. The four soon shed their false sense of dignified composure and screaming matches follow, as they resort to thrashing each other and bickering in amusing ways.
The big draw of Carnage is the acting – Winslet and Foster are magnificent, while Waltz gives a sneering, controlled performance with a small glint of disdain in his eyes. Reilly is excellent as he first tries to be jovial and rational in the face of a lot of hostility but explodes when he gets his chance. It's difficult to single out the performances but if anyone deserved an Oscar nomination it is Winslet who evolves from a gracious upmarket classy wife to a disgustingly profane shrew who vomits the dessert all over the Penelope’s precious books.
The fifth star of Carnage, however, is director Roman Polanski who effortlessly trumps the difficult task of turning a paper thin premise in a single location to a deliciously fun movie. Polanski is the master of demonstrating disorder on screen, and he does a tremendous job of piling on the tension between the couples, and timing their reactions to perfection. This is especially audacious as there is literally no room for any visual showmanship, given the single location. The wide angle shots enhance the increasing sense of claustrophobia and you’re left in splits as the characters detonate in a foul war of words in the final ten minutes.
Carnage is a smart pitch black comedy – watch it to see four of the best Hollywood actors playing people who hilariously circle each other like vultures and tear through the fabric of feigned niceness.
(First published in MiD Day)