FilmDecember 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm

‘Carnage’ is Worth Locking Yourself in A Small Theater

In Polanski’s latest effort, the dark comedy Carnage, he addresses (perhaps openly mocks) mankind’s commitment to any delusions of a civilized society. Why? Because of a schoolyard brawl.

Based on the Yasmina Reza play, God of Carnage, the entire film observes the single meeting of two sets of parents who attempt a tame and polite meeting to discuss and resolve a fight between their children. Before long, the façade of their civil intentions begins to dissolve, and there seems progressively less that separates them from the unrestrained, loutish behavior they sought to eradicate from their kids. As momentum gathers and tensions rise, husbands turn against wives, battles swell between the sexes and any traces of civilized adulthood all but deteriorate from the confines of the cramped apartment.

As a brilliant ensemble piece, the film’s most apparent strength lies in its performances. The cast is largely helmed by the delightfully insufferable Jodie Foster as Penelope Longstreet — an upper-class bleeding heart, using all the passive aggression that she can muster to receive justice for her injured child. But the most enticing character might lie in late (but no less brilliant) bloomer, Christoph Waltz, as the smooth, cold, hard-nosed Alan Cowan — a no-nonsense lawyer who has little patience for his fellow parent’s belly-aching.

Now make no mistake, it takes a lot to make a feature film which takes place in one apartment consistently interesting. But, as he did with his stellar and underrated 1994 suspense-drama, Death and the Maiden, Polanski uses the restraints of his shooting environment to flex his muscles as a truly masterful director. The artfully composed shots and tensely orchestrated scenes wonderfully complement Reza’s sharp and darkly witty script.

It’s worth noting that, after the film’s wonderfully absurd and gracefully developed crescendo, the end might come off as rather abrupt, inconclusive, and perhaps even unfulfilling. It farcically poses all of the right philosophical questions, though it might leave some exiting the theater just scratching their heads.

But for all its many virtues, it would be unfair of any God — of Carnage, Mercy or otherwise — to pass too harsh a judgment on this otherwise excellent film.

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4/5 stars
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet
Rated R. 79 min.

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