Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly
Directed by Roman Polanski
Based off a Tony Award-winning play, Carnage graces us with a quartet of wonderfully talented actors in a showcase for their skills. However, the film which takes place in real time mostly within the confines of the apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) should have felt more claustrophobic than director Roman Polanski is able to provide. It's not that a movie like Carnage which is essentially four people talking with each other for eighty minutes should be "tension-filled", per se, but as the film progresses, there should be an ever-escalating sense of excitement...a building towards something grand at the conclusion. It's not that the ending of the flick disappoints, but the roller coaster ride the film should have provided was full of too many valleys and not enough hills.
After their two sons get in a tiff on the playground resulting in one striking the other with a stick causing damage to two teeth, the aforementioned Longstreets get together with Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to try and patch things up. Things begin quite civilly, but it's soon obvious to both parties that despite being on their best behavior, the "adults" here are really just play-acting, trying to put on their best fronts. As criticisms of the others' parenting skills begin to be bandied about as if they were deadly bullets, the two couples begin to devolve into children fighting on the playground, albeit with a much better vocabulary.
Carnage certainly succeeds because of the four actors onscreen. The very nature of the project calls for the quartet to be viewed pretty much the entire time (one would assume in the play, the actors would never leave the stage) and each holds their own with no one overshadowing anyone else. It's always nice to see Jodie Foster onscreen (which actually happened twice this year with this and The Beaver) and here she's at her most neurotic. It doesn't help her character that John C. Reilly as her husband tries to be the peacemaker rather than stand up for his wife. If I had to choose a standout star from the bunch, it would have to be Reilly who has the comedic chops for a role like this. In the end, he seems the most relatable to me (perhaps the reason why I liked him the most) in that, at times, his character appears to spout what the audience is feeling about these childish adults.
Kate Winslet is also wonderful as the uptight Nancy and she works very well with Christoph Waltz who continues to prove that he is quite adept at dark comedy (a category in which one could certainly place 2009's Inglourious Basterds). Carnage is a film all about about personal interactions and it is pivotal that the cast mesh and flow together which is successfully achieved here.
However, something about the flick doesn't quite click and I have to think the problem lies in the direction since the blame certainly doesn't fall onto the actors. I have to wonder what this story plays like on a stage where all four actors are present all the time. In a film, we cut away to certain reactions and only every so often are treated to shots with the entire quartet in our field of vision. If we had that stage-like ability to constantly be mindful of all four actors, I have to wonder if the edge-of-your-seatness of the "what are they gonna say next" tension inherent in the script would be elevated. Of course, Roman Polanski wasn't going to shoot the movie with nary a one shot of of an actor, but it simply further goes to prove the difficulty at times of transferring plays to the big screen.
This isn't to say that Carnage is a failure. It's far from that. There are many laughs to be had and for sheer acting talent, the film is recommendable. But if the film has done anything, it's made me desperate to want to see the film performed by a talented stage ensemble (**cough**I'm talking to you, University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players**cough**).
The RyMickey Rating: B-