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Carnage Review: Leave The Fucking Apartment!

Posted by on March 24, 2012 at 10:04 am

Four adults behave badly in a Brooklyn apartment in Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly. This movie seems intent on showing the audience that beneath a thin veneer of civility people are little more than apes throwing shit at one another. I don’t necessarily disagree with that message, but if Polanski & Co. are going to make any broad proclamations about human nature, they need to get the details right. And this movie leaves one gaping plot hole unaddressed, if these two couples hate each other so damn much, why doesn’t the visiting couple leave the fucking apartment?

The film opens with Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet meeting at the apartment of Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. Team Waltz-Winslet’s son struck team Foster-Reilly’s son with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth, and now the four are meeting to address the matter in as civil a manner as possible. The two couples draft a statement detailing what happened and agree to have their boys meet to reconcile.

At this point, the purpose of the meeting is over. Tension permeates the air, the dialogue is appropriately awkward, and the actors expertly deliver restrained performances. And then…the couples keep hanging around each other. Waltz and Winslet try to leave a couple of times, but one minor contrivance or another arises and they just sorta linger around to receive and dole out further abuse. At no point does either Foster or Reilly tell their increasingly belligerent house guests to get the hell out of their home. Things get increasingly ugly. Awkward conversation turns into personal insults. The characters start drinking. They start shouting at each other. Kate Winslet pukes on a coffee table. Et cetera.

Polanski based his film off of the French play The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. Michael Katims (nationality unknown to me, but based on his filmography I’m guessing he’s French) translated the play into English, and Polanski and Reza are credited with writing the screenplay which sets the four confrontational adults in Brooklyn, New York. The cast consists of a German, a Brit, and two Americans. Although the film is set in Brooklyn, the film was shot in Paris because of Polanski’s fugitive status in the United States.

I mention all of this because I think something isn’t being translated properly here. In a situation as inherently cringe inducing as the premise for this movie, most couples I know would be itching to extract themselves as soon as possible. I’m suspecting that’s the case in France, too, but I don’t know, maybe in Paris couples regularly meet up to get drunk and shout at each other. Maybe that’s a cultural norm that my primitive American brain can’t grasp. But the point is that I don’t think any four people would stick around for this abuse when they have the option of flight, and the movie doesn’t adequately provide a pretense for why they should stay. A Broadway audience might willingly suspend disbelief, because if the actors leave the confines of the stage, then there isn’t a play; but cinema has never played by those rules. What might have worked for a stage production isn’t sufficient here.

Setting aside this significant lapse in logic, the rest of the movie isn’t that great either. Polanski may be a controversial figure, but he is almost objectively a great director. However, the film’s apartment location and dialogue driven screenplay don’t give him much to work with here. Carnage is well crafted, but not particularly distinctive. This movie could have been directed by anyone. Repulsion this is not.

On paper, the cast is stellar. Here you have four talented veteran actors each with a distinct style of acting. These guys have never been in a film together. Christoph Waltz plays to his strengths in his role as a borderline sociopathic attorney, John C. Reilly appears to be having a field day as an overly accommodating schlub, Jodie Foster jumps feet first into her role as a condescending, bleeding heart liberal, and Kate Winslet gives a solid performance as Waltz’s alternatingly sick and drunk wife.

Everyone seems to be having fun, and in the early scenes requiring restraint, they are terrific. They bounce off of each other with great aplomb, and each actor does a good job of holding his or her own. No actor in particular outshines the others. Of course, just when I’m ready to write off the much aforementioned hole in the screenplay, the characters begin drinking. This otherwise brilliant cast concludes the film by engaging in the worst display of drunken overacting I’ve seen outside of a broad slapstick comedy. Imagine a sort of half-assed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Carnage displays a fantastic pedigree behind and in front of the camera, but ultimately I didn’t find it satisfying. The director is fantastic, but there wasn’t much for him to do; the cast was fantastic, but they were given too much to do. The source material is highly regarded, but I can’t help feeling that, with regards to this particular adaptation, something was lost in translation.

5/10 FleshEatingZipper

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