The film’s set up, based on a famous play Yasmina Reza, is simple. Two couples meet to civilly discuss a violent incident involving their children. Both couples dislike each other as well as their own relationships but seem compelled by mutual loathing to remain in the room they are in. There is nothing stopping these people leaving the house (one couple almost make it twice) and yet they remain to take chunks out of each other. Their conversation devolves into childish squabble at a swift pace, covering all sorts of uncomfortable areas and philosophies. Awkward glances transform into emotional sideswipes, forced politeness descends into racial slurs. Much like Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel Polanski gives us a brisk reminder (the film runs less than 80 minutes) that our so-called civility, that we love to utilise to lord above other people (or animals), is a fragile veneer nearly always willing to crack when the right pressure is applied. Carnage is a claustrophobic, black farce with four characters who make the bastards in Mike Nichols’ Closer look like Care Bears. Polanski hasn’t had this much fun in ages.
The film feels like the Polanski of old; back in middle-class apartments (see Repulsion or The Tenant) and portraying the space as claustrophobic and dark, while sprinkling on the enclosed feeling that haunted the images of Knife in the Water. As Polanski turns the screws you can feel the walls crumble around these characters. So relentlessly absorbed in their own little worlds, they come across equally as childish as the kids they came to talk about. The mud is slung thick and fast and the dialogue rolls off fork tongues with devilish glee. The film remains uncomplicated visually and lets the actors do the heavy lifting.
Craftily casted, all four performances are finely tuned, with each managing to gain laugh-out-loud moments, be it the bash, faux homeliness of John C. Reily or the droll one liners of a carnivorous Christoph Waltz. Winslet as the cold, status-fuelled wife of Waltz gets the best moment of physical comedy while Jodie Foster lets loose as a passive-aggressive, bleeding-heart liberal who protests for peace through culture.
Carnage is a tightly wound, hystercal black comedy, from a director who even near 80 years of age has not lost his sharpness or talent for human observation.
UK Release Date: 3rd February
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