Always remember kids, don’t get in fights at school, or the parents will probably duke it out too.
Two sets of parents (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet) all meet together when both of their sons get into a playground skirmish. What starts out as a nice, civilized meeting soon turns into complete havoc as tensions between two couples begin to rise up.
The fact that Roman Polanski is directing a stage play that is also a comedy, seems a little strange for a director who is most known for bringing us some of the tension-filled thrillers of the past 20 years. However, this film is just further proof that Polanski can do no wrong, except for when he gets stuck with little kiddies, but that’s a whole different story.
What I liked about this flick was the fact that it was very fast-paced and the screenplay feels rich and authentic, almost like how real people would talk if they were put into this type of situation as well. The tone is humorous but in a very dark way so even when you can tell things are going to go from bad to worse between these two couples, the laughs somehow sneak their own little sly way into making you chuckle when you least expect it.
Even though this is no suspense thriller by any means, I still do believe that Polanski brought some tense moments into this film. I didn’t know what either person was going to say next and as these funny twists and turns keep coming out, the more ridiculous and also kind of tense it gets as well. My favorite element to this film was how everything was played in real-time and I also liked how Polanski didn’t feel the need to leave the room and instead we are just left in this one room for the whole time, which to some may have been a little boring, but for me was well-used.
My problem with it being in one room is that when one of the couples try to leave, they somehow find themselves brought back in whether it being to get the last word in, or get a cup of coffee, or because the plot needed more conflict. This is done a lot better on the stage because you can feel as if the characters have absolutely nowhere to go, but where have a camera that can and will go anywhere with these characters, it feels a bit contrived and forced. About the 3rd time they walk back into the room, I couldn’t help but think that these people just wanted a large-scale brawl.
Another problem I had with this flick was the fact that there was all of this satire and points about “The God of Carnage” and I just couldn’t buy into it. When they all start to talk about each others relationships with each other and how women do this, and men do that didn’t feel insightful or farcical at all, instead it just felt like the film was trying to be more than just 4 people in a room, bickering over some little skirmish. Maybe it’s just because the stage play went down the same path, that the film did it too, but for some reason, I just could net get into it.
The one thing that Polanski does perfectly here is that he keeps the camera on these four leads as each of their relationships start to unravel. Kate Winslet is amazing as Nancy because she starts out as this nice, easy-going trophy-wife that soon starts to change as she gets the booze in her, and then she turns into some foul-mouthed trucker. Winslet has always done transformations like these with her characters, but she is just so good here as her emotions change from one side to another. Jodie Foster has always been that one actress that always feels up-tight and very reserved, but as Penelope, she lets it all out. Foster is very good in this role because she plays against type and just lets loose on the anger and frustration that this character has throughout the whole film, and as she starts to get a little bit drunker, she starts to get more foul-mouthed as well.
After being terribly disappointed by his performance in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, I was very glad to see John C. Reilly kick some ass again in his performance as Michael. He’s funny, charming, and likable but you know there is some rage to him that’s hidden deep-down inside and I think this is something that Reilly shows very well. Glad to see that this guy can still be lovable. Christoph Waltz had a few duds this year with ‘The Green Hornet’ and ‘The Three Musketeers‘ but he’s back in his full-swing as the complete a-hole that finds anyway to cause conflict. Waltz was probably the one who made me laugh the most out of this whole cast and I think it shows that Waltz really can play villains that you can still like, just by being charming and funny. He one an Oscar for it already, and he can definitely keep on doing that for a long long time.
Consensus: Carnage does feel somewhat contrived and forced with certain elements, but thanks to a very slick direction from Roman Polanski and Foster, Reilly, Waltz, and Winslet bringing out the best with their performances, you can definitely laugh even if it does make you wish you saw the stage play.