What’s it about?
It’s been a rather dramatic few years for French-Polish director Roman Polanski. An awards ceremony in Zurich turned into a prison spell for a rather notorious yet decades-old rape charge. The press had a field day and everybody put in their two cents worth on the opinion front. Nobody gets people’s backs up like Polanski and yet he also happens to be one of the greatest directors the medium has ever produced. Can we seperate the man from the crime? Has he been punished enough? The debate rages on. Can we solely concentrate on the merits of his latest feature? Yes, lets…
Many thought, not without good reason, The Ghost Writer would be Polanski’s last flick (given he was arrested and waited to be extradicted to the USA). But Polanski was released by Swiss authorities and set about making a film adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s famous play God of Carnage. The story is simple: two middle class couples meet up to discuss a playground incident involving their sons then proceed to verbally rip each other to shreds.
The film is rather bleak and painfully accurate in the way each couple pretends they are civil and then casually drop in the odd dig in before things escalate to all-out war. Matters of cultural taste and class distinction are exposed like raw nerves. Alan, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, can barely conceal his snobbery and this deeply annoys his wife, Nancy, who wants to maintain a civil front. One family is pseudo-bohemian and the other reeks of money.
Where Carnage feels most forced and phoney is the sudden leaps into near-hysteria. The tone of the film is perhaps the ultimate issue, even more so than the obvious stage-bound setting limiting the visual scope. The great question Carnage asks is ‘What sort of example are these people setting for their kids?’ We’re all rather horrible bastards despite the nice clothes and surface good manners, Polanski and Reza suggest. Yet isn’t this middle-class angst all a bit, well, boring in itself and been done to death before?
Christoph Waltz’s character is an utter snob and obviously bored with proceedings. Conversations are constantly interrupted by his mobile phone and he suddenly unleashes his impatient side. Here we see him as an aggressive and distant figure. His son is a ‘maniac’ he tells Mike and Penny Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster). Zachary, the boy, will not learn a thing from this incident even if, again ironically, it seems the son of the liberal parents caused the fight.
Of the actors Jodie Foster and Waltz excel in their respective roles. Penny is all soft-hearted liberal one minute then sniping and bitchy, the next. Her use of language is very telling as if she’s trying to impress upon the other couple she’s an intellectual and fair-minded person when slowly the layer’s are peeled back and she’s a neurotic mess. Winslet is guilty of overacting on several occasions, but does get one of the film’s standout scenes, where she vomits all over a flower display and weighty art books, carefully laid out on the coffeetable to catch the eye.
At barely 80 minutes Carnage flies by and Polanski plays up to the material’s stage origins by creating a claustrophobic and teasing picture. The couple invited to the Longstreets home try to leave time and time again but get sidetracked or relent in another attempt at playing nice. This slightly surrealist gesture allows for a neat sense of pressure to build.
How’s the picture and sound?
This is without a doubt one of Polanski’s most unfussy (on visual terms) pictures. It is neat and tidy … even if the mighty Dean Tavalouris was responsible for the set design. This DVD transfer is sharp and what you expect from a major company like StudioCanal. The movie is ordinary and yet meticulous. Strange.
Interviews with Winslet, Waltz, Reilly and Foster make up the sole extra features. It’s typical EPK type stuff and not particularly revealing. Shame.
Carnage might be minor (what a deeply ironic word here) Polanski but several strong performances save it. Bouncing back from legal events with a smaller picture will perhaps lead to something grander. Carnage is a film many admirers of the director quite possibly never thought would happen. Nasty, spiteful and at times, hilarious, the concept might overall be weak, but there’s enough panache to make this one worth checking out.
Extra Features Rating:
When’s it out?
Carnage is released 18th June