I found myself at the cinema twice to see this exceptional film. An adaptation of a stage play that opened in New York, Roman Polanski’s Carnage does justice to the original script, depicting a story that captures the fragility of relationships as they crumble at two couples’ desire to prove that their kid was in the right. Carnage demonstrates how the civilized easily dissolves into the barbaric, unrefined, crude gestures that are so quickly triggered by the declaration, “I am right!”
The film is set in a well-furnished New York apartment; the characters never leave the confines of this living space, making it as far as the elevator before returning back to the room where all emotion is unleashed. The room and each individual shot are so well orchestrated so to capture the claustrophobic space that leads each character to his or her breaking point. Alliances are set, dismantled, and re-affirmed as the opposition between the couples morphs into a battle of the sexes, culminating in the battle of the individual, and settling again in a heated discussion between the couples.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film, most of its comedy relied on Kate Winslet who plays Nancy Cowan. The strongest of the four actors, your eyes are drawn to her performance, which leads you, at times, to forget about the other three characters in the room. Her comedic timing is only enhanced by the brandy she kicks back. Dishevelled and with a drunken slur, Nancy screams, “I’m glad our son kicked the shit out of your son, and I wipe my ass with your human rights!” Captivating, beautiful, and unleashed, she is at her drunkest, bearing all as her demure, composed self transforms into a childish anger. Her husband, Alan Cowan (Christopher Waltz), is the second strongest cast member. His quick jabs at Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and the ability to jump between conversation and telephone interruptions reveal his inattentiveness and uncaring sensibility as he struggles to defend a pharmaceutical product that decreases the health of several clients.
The casting is strong; however, I feel as though Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly (Michael Longstreet) were poorly cast. For me, Penelope is a strong character, a defender of human rights, an outspoken activist whose strength and composure are tested throughout the script. Eventually, we see her fall apart as the debate between the couples over a playground fight between their kids extends to a discussion of humanity and the corrupt individual. We see her struggle to salvage the discussion of the demise of the human species which is defined by war and carnage, and eventually, the civilized discussion leads to irrational conversation and childish name-calling. All this culminates in her complete and utter break-down that leads to tears. Instead, what we get in the film is a very whiny middle aged woman who is continually breaking down. She presents herself as a learned woman who loses her composure with the trivial of gestures. As for John C. Reilly— well, he is there in the film. You can’t miss him, but his performance is not memorable. His movement is not natural, and often seems forced and minutely planned and executed.
The film is not incredibly long, but its length is enough to do what it needs to do. Fast-paced, comical, and complex, this film presents the barbaric, immature desires bubbling beneath the composed and well-mannered.