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Carnage—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
December 16, 2011 12:45 AM
3 Comments
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Carnage seems to be a pretty good movie, but I have no way of evaluating it without comparing it to the play on which it’s based, God of Carnage, which I saw on Broadway with a perfect cast (James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, and Hope Davis). This isn’t fair to the picture—or to viewers who come to it with a clean slate—but I simply couldn’t erase the memory of that theatrical experience as I watched the film, which director Roman Polanski adapted for the screen with playwright Yasmina Reza.

Polanski has staged the movie so it never feels claustrophobic, even though it takes place in one Brooklyn, New York apartment and its adjacent hallway over the course of a long afternoon. But he has failed to capture the play’s ever-so-gradual buildup of tension.

The premise is that Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet have come to call on Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly to discuss an upsetting schoolyard incident in which the first couple’s son has beat up the other’s. Because these four people are intelligent adults, they hope they can resolve their differences through positive means instead of resorting to physical or verbal abuse as their children have done.

In the play, the couples’ veneer of decorum is slowly stripped away, revealing them as savages in disguise. In the film, Foster’s character is prickly and annoying right from the start, while her husband (Reilly) never appears to be threatening or even terribly upset. His change of tone, midway through the film, is incomplete and ineffectual, while hers begins at such a high pitch that she has nowhere to go to add color to her character.

The breakdown of the other, more genteel, couple doesn’t have nearly the impact it should. Waltz and Winslet are skillful actors, but in spite of the ability of film to show closeups (as theater cannot) their characters remain somewhat remote, so it’s difficult to engage with them when the narrative takes its final turn.

Carnage isn’t dull or uninteresting, and it’s never a waste of time to watch four talented performers tackle meaty material such as this. But I have to mark the film a failure because I know that it should have been better.

More to the point, it probably should have remained a piece of theater, the medium for which it was created.

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3 Comments

  • Green Bird | March 25, 2012 5:23 AMReply

    While I haven't seen the play, or even knew about it until after I saw this movie I have to mostly agree with your review. Waltz and Winslet were paired perfectly in this movie, and Reilly and Foster were also paired really well together. I do agree that Foster went a little to high from the start but I did really enjoy Reilly's performance and found his change of tone effectual and entertaining. Now don't get me wrong Foster is Aces, but hey at times a great actors performance can just be very good. I will say that Gandolfini is awesome and can definitely leave an impression apt for comparison. Overall I really enjoyed this movie not knowing much about it say from the PPV description.

  • Patrick M. Gouin | January 11, 2012 2:47 PMReply

    Misanthropy vs civilisation. Roman Polanski’s incursion in Woody Allen’s territory, with a biting edge. I haven’t seen a comedy from Polanski since the The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), which also was biting, obviously. The actors are at their best. Jodie Foster does not simply possess her role, but seems possessed by it. She expresses herself with every pore of her skin. Kate Winslet is simply hilarious. The facial expressions of the former combined with the indigestion of the latter remind me of Regan in the Exorcist. It’s been a long time since I belly laughed as much in a movie theatre. The screenplay is taken from the stage play Le Dieu du carnage. Now, I can hardly wait to see it on stage. A comedy for adults not to be missed, but make sure your couple is secure beforehand.

  • mike schlesinger | December 16, 2011 7:07 PMReply

    Reilly's a talented actor, but no one should be asked to fill the mighty shoes of James Gandolfini!

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