By Daniel Alvarez
Sticks and stones may break your bones (or knock a tooth out), but the punches thrown in Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” (based on the critically acclaimed play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza) will knock the wind out of you — as you’re doubled over in laughter
The carnage begins immediately. One day in a New York City park, a young boy won’t let another boy join his group of friends, so the rejected child’s natural response is to pick up a large stick and crack him in the face, knocking out two of his teeth.
Distraught over their son’s injuries, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) invite the parents of the other boy, Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) over to their apartment to discuss what happened and what should be done.
The Longstreets want to see the fight over and have the Cowan boy apologize to their son, while Mr. and Mrs. Cowan wish to smooth the unpleasantness over, so that no legal issues will rise from this. Of course, it’s an awkward scenario for both couples. But they’re adults, right? Surely, they can keep their emotions in check, and behave in a calm, rationale way.
Not a chance in hell.
Emotions and voices start to rise higher and higher, as subtleties are replaced by shrillness, with everybody getting so worked up, that Nancy suddenly becomes ill, and projectile vomits all over the coffee table, her husband’s pants, and a rare, out-of-print art book owned by Penelope. Everybody is speechless.
At this point, Michael breaks out the scotch, and it’s time for round two.
Everyone’s true colors come out as alliances are made and broken within seconds. It’s everybody for themselves: husband against wife, women against men, and couple against couple, with books, tulips and cell phones flying in the air.
Their sons’ fight is more or less forgotten, as they are subjected to their own hilarious, biting, unrestrained alcohol-fueled playground fight, where the only rule is the rule of carnage.
Polanski adapted the film from the award-winning play “God of Carnage,” which features the four actors in one set. Live theater works with the performers and the audience — they set the pace and the tone together, especially in a small play such as this, with only four actors in one set. Polanski compensates for this with close-up shots and focus on body language as well as dialogue, keeping up with the energy throughout the film. Polanski captures the tension and the comedy of the play on the screen, and along with his brilliant cast, delivers an evening of chaotic hilarity.
Each actor delivers a distinctive, hilarious performance, especially as the characters begin to say what they really feel, shifting gears from fake to furious. Winslet, as Nancy, goes from prim and proper to vomiting to a fall-down drunk. Reilly is perfect for the role of Michael, a seemingly simple man with a hidden street toughness and a taste for fine cigars.
There is only one negative issue with the cast. Foster’s passive-aggressive angst in the first half of the movie, teamed up with Reilly’s natural comedy, doesn’t quite come off as the most convincing of married couples. Either Foster is too tense, or Reilly is too lax. Whichever it is, the couple seems off at first — at least until Foster’s character slips back into alcoholism, where she really lets herself break down all over the place. But without a doubt, it is Waltz who is the stand-out performance of the film, coolly delivering his lines with a sense that he is both indifferent to, and slightly amused by the chaos.
Throughout the film, you’ll smirk and laugh at the scathing lines that you wish you had said once in a fight but knew better not to. “Carnage” is a hilarious, dark comedy where our humanity is stripped down to its primal, emotional, temper-tantrum throwing inner child that lives within us regardless of class or gender.Contact Daniel Alvarez.