Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Yasmina Reza (play), Yasmina Reza (screenplay)
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz
Motion Picture Rating: 15
Runtime: 80 minutes
I am suspicious of plays made into films. The theatre and the cinema for me are very different media (and I have a strong preference for the latter). Carnage was originally God of Carnage, a play written by Yasmina Reza and first performed in December 2006. She adapted her play for this film and she got to work with the legendary Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist) and a high profile cast. As the film takes place in the single setting of a New York apartment, very little has been changed in the transfer to screen.
Jodie Foster and John C Reilly (the Longstreet’s) and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz (the Cowan’s) are couples. The Longstreet’s are hosting the Cowan’s to discuss a nasty playground incident involving their sons. The action starts with polite, but stilted conversation between the strangers and then escalates as masks are dropped and real feelings vented. The story is set up to pit personal traits, parenting styles and, ultimately, social classes against each other. The message is that we may talk about being ‘good citizens’ but actually, deep down, we simply don’t care.
This is a good film although I am not sure that anything interesting has been added to the stage play. It feels stagey of course with the single location, but Polanski does well to mix his angles whilst building the tension. The acting is high quality as you would expect. Reilly gets some particularly great lines and the script is smart with lots of quick rat-a-tat arguments. Winslet’s character changes the most over the 80 minutes, but she carries it off. And the Winslet / Waltz couple, and their shaky marriage, are a more realistic pair than Foster / Reilly.
Carnage is not as clever as the makers no doubt think it is. It is funny, but it is not really insightful and it is not provocative. The characters are stamped to some extent with that New York neurotic and brash personality that we have seen before. Foster sticks to her “sense of community” guns throughout, but the others unsurprisingly reveal themselves as hardened, unforgiving and cynical urbanites. It is fun to watch them unravel, but the film doesn’t deliver much beyond that.