Film review: Carnage

Constantin Film Produktion, SBS Productions, SPI Poland

STARRING Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
WRITTEN BY Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza, adapted from Reza’s play “God of Carnage”
PRODUCED BY Saïd Ben Saïd, Oliver Berben, Martin Moszkowicz
DIRECTED BY Roman Polanski

SHOT BY Paweł Edelman
EDITED BY Hervé de Luze
MUSIC BY Alexandre Desplat
DISTRIBUTED BY Sony Pictures Classics, StudioCanal UK

Screened 2011-12-02

Polanski adapted Reza’s play in Paris despite its Brooklyn setting. We all know why. I will admit that while liking Polanski’s films, I have never weighed them against his crimes; I like his films too much to want to spoil them. That said, his adaptation of “God of Carnage” is a lesson to us all in blocking and photography which utilize actors to tell a story… without being distracted by more frivolous cinethings. The story is simple enough: A playground scrape between young Masters Cowan and Longstreet results in lost teeth and a quiet desire for justice. Aged Lords and Mistresses of each clan meet at the wounded boy’s home to… what, exactly? Apologize, reconcile, guilt-trip? After a few cursory efforts at lip service it becomes clear that none of these is easily achieved, at least not among these eccentrics, and bickering, tantrums and misogyny consume the party as it degenerates from compassion to blind self-interest. It’s a comedy.

What at first appears to be a catastrophe of manners is also a desperate, impotent defense of them made by Penelope against the blithely opportunistic Alan. Alan’s rather chummy relationship with violence nauseates his hopeless wife Nancy and baffles the simpleminded Michael. Alan is the passive moral challenger in this incident. The casual indifference Alan exudes and the way he argues by falling back on flat facts… against Penelope’s emotionally-charged, wounded defense of civilization… their dynamic reminds me of the one I see when I watch debates between atheists such as Chris Hitchens and Sam Harris versus ranking religious experts. The religious debaters always visibly struggle to remain cool while the atheists are posterboys for calm.

I don’t particularly like Reza’s play [semicolon #2] I read it in the week preceding my screening. It goes nowhere. It doesn’t even end, they get drunk and things peter out. Nothing is accomplished, no one is the wiser, and it isn’t funny enough. And maybe this is just me, but I don’t find much funny about this story at all – lacerations, affectations, tantrums, and a meager hour together. (Jesus, how many pieces of theater devolve into tantrums?) The repeated line “This is the unhappiest day of my life” is meant to elicit laughter… because I guess we’re supposed to be shocked by the extent to which the characters have been “reduced” to animals or children over a mere hour – hardly true. In fact, not true. Carnage is still better than a lot of films this year because Polanski is masterful and the casting is perfect. Every actor excels and is as enjoyable as the material makes capable. So this pundit recommends reading the play before seeing the film. I’ll email you a digital copy just like one was shared with me. Consider this a test to my undoubtedly devoted readership.

written by David Ashley