A showdown between two kids about eleven, in a local playground. Swollen lips, broken teeth... Now the parents of the "victim" have invited the parents of the "bully" to their apartment to sort it out.from£6.29 | RRP:
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Roman Polanski directs this comedy of manners adapted from the play by Yasmina Reza, who also co-writes the screenplay. A stripped-back four-hander, the film tells the satirical tale of two sets of well-heeled New York City parents - Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) - who meet for a discussion after their sons are involved in a violent incident in the school playground. Despite their honourable intentions, long-suppressed resentments and hostilities soon flare up both between and within the couples, leading to a rapid deterioration in civilities.
Average Rating for Carnage - 5 out of 5
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How should two sets of parents deal with a playground fight between their children? That's the question posed by 'Carnage', which takes that deceptively straightforward starting point and uses it as a base to explore issues of class, culture, gender and etiquette, all within the framework of a simple conversation between four adults.
If that setup sounds somewhat theatrical, it's because Roman Polanski's film is based on the French play "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza. And the movie wears its theatrical influences on its sleeve, never setting foot outside the confines of a single Brooklyn apartment (aside from two short, silent bookend scenes), and featuring very little action to speak of. However, that certainly doesn't mean it's boring, as some snappy writing and some great performances mean that the film is never less than compelling, especially once the facade of civility between the two sets of parents begins to break down - and what began as a polite discussion escalates into a full-blown argument between all four participants.
Jodie Foster and John C Reilly play the Longstreets, the parents of the 'attacked' child (although I put that word in inverted commas, because the film soon makes it clear that the situation isn't quite as clear-cut as that), whilst the father and mother of the aggravating boy - the Cowans - are portrayed by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz. Initially, we're led to believe that the Longstreets are caring liberals who want to deal with the conflict as delicately as possible, whilst the Cowans are slightly brasher and less sensitive sorts who just want to get the problem over with. But gradually, both of these impressions begin to disintegrate, laying bare the character flaws of all four parents and revealing much about what might have influenced the kids to act the way that they did in the first place.
To give any more details would be to spoil the twists and turns that the conversation takes, but it's not giving away too much to say that the film keeps things interesting by introducing discontent within the two marriages as well as between the two sets of parents, eventually leading to a temporary change of allegiances that sees the two males square off against the two females. Polanski also manages to provide a certain amount of visual variety (no mean feat for a movie set within a single apartment) by constantly selecting new camera angles and by moving the action to different parts of the apartment as the story progresses, making individual rooms - or even corners of rooms - feel like distinctive locations in their own right.
If I had to pick out one particular actor for praise, it'd probably be Waltz, who's as intense and commanding here as he was in his breakout role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Playing a work-obsessed lawyer for a pharmaceutical company who's never off his mobile phone, Waltz owns the screen for every second he's on it, and it's perhaps his character that best exemplifies the dark, cynically humorous tone of the movie. Whilst it's not an acting competition - this is a great example of a well-matched ensemble cast, and one that works well as a whole - the other three actors never quite match the level that Waltz is operating at here.
If I have any real criticism of the film, it's that it occasionally gets a little too smugly middle-class for its own good, and if you can't identify with the first-world foibles of these flawed-but-recognisable characters then you may find that some of the humour is a little lost on you. But even then, a couple of great (and unexpected) gross-out and slapstick moments provide humour of a different flavour, and also give the script a little added impetus just when things threaten to start sagging a little.
'Carnage' boasts a setup that's about as simple as you can get, a cast comprised of 100% A-list talent, and a sense of gradual escalation that means it gets funnier and funnier as time passes. At just 80 minutes, it never outstays its welcome, but provides a perfectly-paced portrait of how our external niceties betray our internal passions - and of what might happen if we occasionally gave voice to those passions. Don't be put off by the film's simple-sounding premise or theatrical origins: this is just as much fun as many big-name comedies you could speak of, and has a certain amount of brains to match. Well worth your time.
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