Saturday, 18 February 2012
FILM REVIEW: Carnage
Sometimes a film will come along that is so polished and refined and, well good, that not a lot more needs to be said about it. Such film is Carnage, the new one from Roman Polanski about a group of seemingly well mannered, civil "grown up" adults who are doing the mature thing by meeting to discuss the fallout amongst their sons. But then proceed to enjoyably fall apart.
Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet) are suit dressing, high powered busy parents of Zachary, an 11 year old boy whom we see teased by a gang of boys in the opening moments of the film only to then pick up a stick and strike the ring leader. That ring leader is 11 year old Ethan, son of Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C Reilly): jumper wearing arts loving liberal parents who after finding out what happened call for a friendly, but frank, meeting with the other set of parents to discuss the incident and try and smooth things over. Based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (who also collaborates on the screenplay here with Polanski), the four of them are confined to the same apartment for the duration of the film, Nancy and Alan attempting to escape on numerous occasions only to pulled back in by both niceties and insults. It soon becomes clear their styles of parenting clash, and the views on the boys' altercation - and of their sons' temperament and personality in general - differ rapidly as the meeting continues. Soon, they are attacking one another and personal grievances enter the fray - throw in some projectile vomiting, incessant mobile phone calls and scotch, and carnage soon reigns in the room.
It's hard for it not to feel like a play - so often with adaptations from theatre to screen there's at least some movement away from the restrictions of the stage so the creativity and freedom of the camera can be utilised - but here, apart from the opening and closing sequences with the boys in the park/playground, this is a literal and faithful transformation by Polanski. I was intrigued to see how they wouldn't be able to leave the apartment - they do make it into the lift at one point - how the story would twist to make that happen. I read a review, I think it was the Metro, which got me annoyed before I had even watched the film - why don't just leave? It implored. In reality they would just leave. BECAUSE THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT YOU MONGOOSE. IT'S THE PLAY. I have to admit though, it felt at times like the characters were in a sci-fi esque chamber, and what would happen if one of them dared to leave? Would time stop? Would the world explode?
The performances I was delighted by - more so than the actual script. It was hard to pick who was the best of the A-list ensemble, there were times when they were all exceptionally good. This was my first Christoph Waltz film and I thought he was fabulous - probably my favourite if I can't pick a best - and his snorty laugh alone was hilarious. John C Reilly also brilliant as the nice parent who then goes all rogue and starts snapping towards the end (along with We Need To Talk About Kevin he's a quiet achiever, that one). Jodie and Kate also marvellous as their jaded and emotionally fraught wives, nipping at each other as women do, but then equally open to siding with one another against the useless and selfish men in their lives. Foster is at a push the weakest as her collective peacemaker role fully collapses into a melodramatic end of her tether breakdown - she tends to overact a little here. Winslet is lucky enough to have some of the best scenes: the vomiting, the mobile phone plunging, ripping up the tulips, and my favourite line, "whhhhy are we still in this HOUSE?"
At 80 minutes the film should whip by, but the same location makes it drag towards the home stretch and you find yourself wanting to fast forward through all the talk about their jobs and the guilt of having a middle class lifestyle and get to all the good bits in the trailer. That's the only downside of the film, apart from it being so spot-on that you come out not really thinking very much of it at all. Dare I say perfunctory?
Entertaining, often wickedly funny, and parents are sure to get a real kick out of it: Carnage is a great all rounder, but isn't striving to amaze or disturb, and makes clear what it wants to say. Sometimes being perfect can be a little eh.