Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

22Jan12

Jodie Foster (Penelope), Kate Winslet (Nancy), Christoph Waltz (Alan), John C. Reilly (Michael). Screenplay by Yasmina Reza. Directed by Roman Polanski. Running time: 80 minutes.

I seldom howl in cinemas nowadays when the best humour on offer is The Hangover Part 10, but that has all changed with Carnage: a crisp, well-cut Polanski piece shedding light through satire on the silly and superficial workings of middle class marriage and manners. The excuse for setting up the exposure is one child hitting another, the parents meeting for a civilised coffee to try to ensure this isn’t the beginning of extended bullying and belligerence. But the appearance of peace and politeness soon disintegrates, and the descent to ill-feeling is secured when the luxurious lounge somehow becomes a demented dungeon. Thus follow the outbursts of hilarious honesty that make the film at once both light but witty social commentary and class-focused first-rate comedy.

Waltz is a wicked, wicked performer. I would pay a sickening amount of money to see him play this role in theatre. As Alan he’s the now stereotypical, only half-there husband that balances his Blackberry-based virtual life with reality, constantly killing conversations dead to answer calls. In this context it infuriates those around him especially, and only adds to the anger induced by his petty protests about the phrasing of a letter to the school about the issue, and his refusal to apologise for the antics of his ‘maniac’ son. Add in his mix of condescension, disparagement and brutal truth-telling – all seemingly expressed so naturally – and he’s the standout, terrific trigger for most of the all too funny trouble.

Foster and Reilly as the opposing couple hold their own well, the former convincing as the hysterical mother and the latter becoming increasingly vexed at her about everything. But Winslet, surprisingly, turns out to be the weak link. Her anxiety is expressed through mannerisms just all too familiar to us from her role as April Wheeler, and in a sense it’s ironic that her performance connects Carnage to Revolutionary Road given that both films start from the premise that married life sucks, albeit subsequently employing them in hugely different ways. She misses all of the magic in the dialogue, but it doesn’t matter. Waltz more than makes up for it, and as the lines are delivered and the ludicrous scenarios unfold, the result is comedy gold.

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