The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review; Carnage (UK cert 15)

Yasmina Reza’s play La Dieu Du Carnage (‘God Of Carnage’) first premiered in Zurich in 2006. It was translated into English and had a run in the West End in 2008 before a Broadway production in 2009. Now, Reza adapts her own play for the movie version, directed in Paris by Roman Polanski (who also co-writes).

Two sets of parents- Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz)- meet to discuss a playground altercation between their sons. The fragile veneer of civility starts to crumble as accusations start to fly and irrational arguments and tensions boil over. Unfolding in real time over eighty minutes, Carnage is fun but ultimately insubstantial.

All four actors are excellent in their respective roles- Foster self-righteous and highly-strung; Reilly mitigating and balanced; Winslet neurotic and anxious; Waltz sarcastic and caustic. The interplay between the four characters, their petty squabbles and veiled snubs at one another, is the driving force of the film. For a piece that originated in the theatre, it is entirely appropriate that words should be what kicks things off. When writing their deposition, Penelope- a writer- suggests that the Cowans’ son was ‘armed’ with a stick; Alan- an attorney- challenges her on the use of that word. It is this pedantic use of language that causes some of Carnage’s finest moments.

Throughout the course of the eighty minutes, battle lines are drawn, alliances formed and changed; at certain points the women gang up on the men and vice versa, or husbands quarrel with wives. At times the children’s altercation lies abandoned as the four adults tear into one another. Arguably, Waltz gives the best performance- much of the humour came from his delivery and demeanour.

You can tell Carnage started life as a play. It’s very stagy in places and I’m not sure if that’s down to the script, the direction or both. For the most part, the action is contained within the Longstreets’ apartment with occasional forays into the lobby. There is a certain implausibility to the speed at which characters get drunk which may be forgiven on stage but not so much on film. There’s also a slightly ill-advised scene of gross-out comedy when Nancy, constantly nervous, vomits all over the coffee table which, whilst initially funny, seems out of place with the rest of the piece. It also just ends. No real resolution, just a fade to black as the characters sit around.

Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing for the quartet of brilliant performances given by the cast.

Rating: 3 out of 5


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