Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Film Review: Carnage (2012)

Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz

Two married middle class couples having a constant argument for 80 minutes may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but that is the concept of Roman Polanski’s latest film comedy, Carnage. It is, however, a very funny film largely due to a razor-sharp script and four fantastic performances.

When Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) arrive at the luxury New York apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), they are there to settle the matter of their son ‘attacking’ the Longstreet’s son with a stick following a playground argument. At first, Nancy Cowan is apologetic and goes along with everything Penelope (who is calling the shots) says. The husbands are either relaxed and say boys will be boys, in the case of Michael, or they are largely uninterested and have seemingly better things to do, like Alan. They agree that the children should meet and apologises should be said…. then comes the homemade cake, and the characters’ true colours begin to show.

The cake is simply a plot devise to keep these couples in the same room, but by eating it, it opens discussions about art, work, human rights in Darfur, and the misery in their lives. When Nancy is sick all over the coffee table, the couples are forced to stay even longer and then the real bitchiness and mud-slinging begins.

What makes Carnage work so well is that we are laughing at these rich and wealthy characters dissect their lives and marriage and hopes and fears to relative strangers because no one else will listen, especially their spouses. Not one of them has a real problem and, despite their seeming dislike of each other, the women team up against the men and husbands and wives swap allegiances whenever it suits them just so they can be heard. They soon turn into the very children they are supposed to be standing up for, and nothing is funnier (or sadder) than watching adults act like spoilt kids.

At only 80 minutes with end credits, the film is quick and breezy despite taking place solely in the apartment; and there are many times when you might think ‘why don’t they just get up and leave?’ but the comedy is in Cowans’ need to stay and prove they are just as good (or pathetic) as the Longstreets, and the Longstreets’ desire to have the moral upperhand no matter how much their own personalities are scrutinised. The acting is first rate and needs to be to deliver the satirical dialogue with a straight face; the comedic talent of three Oscar winners and one nominee is on show throughout and no one disappoints at any time. It is a joy to watch good acting at any time, but to have four people deliver in a four character screenplay is rare.

This may not be classic Polanski in terms of directorial brilliance (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby) but he stages the film perfect well and he keeps the film alive when it could easily have dragged or out stayed its welcome, like the Cowans do.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: In an age where most comedies seem to have one of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan, Will Ferrell, or Todd Phillips attached, Carnage makes for a refreshing and welcome change; but if you like your comedy lowbrow, then stick to The Hangover Part II.

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