$8.00 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50
Any picture from director Roman Polanski is bound to generate buzz. Such is the case with “Carnage,” which unspooled at the New York Film Festival. For his adaptation of the play, “God of Carnage,” in which he shares screenwriter credit with playwright Yasmina Reza, Polanski assembled a stellar cast: Jodie Foster as Penelope Longstreet, a Brooklyn Heights writer and mother of two married to John C. Reilly as Michael Longstreet, a distributor of hardware and household fixtures; Kate Winslet as investment broker Nancy Cowan, and Christoph Waltz as husband Alan Cowan, a partner in a PR agency whose biggest client, a pharmaceutical company, is about to be exposed for marketing a toxic drug. The quartet are brought together by an incident in which the 11-year-old Cowan boy took a stick to the 11-year-old Longstreet boy and rearranged the latter’s face. Pic is comedy disguised as drama.
Action takes place in the Longstreet’s apartment, where the Cowans have arrived to make peace between their sons. Peace, in this case, is not a bad idea. Criminal charges could be filed. What starts with surreal undertones of hostility beneath a veneer of civility quickly degenerates into the absurd. Alan is constantly on his mobile phone trying to defuse his pharmaceutical crisis. It turns out that Michael’s mother is taking the drug at issue. Penelope wants an in-person apology from the Cowan boy to her son. Cobbler is brought out. So is the scotch and, much to the annoyance of Penelope, the cigars.
A bizarre dynamic develops between the four. The seams and stitches of both marriages are laid bare amid projectile vomiting (Winslet) and an assault on Alan’s mobile phone. After sufficient scotch, Alan tells Michael’s mother on the phone to stop taking the tainted drug. Silly stuff, like drying art books which have been puked on with a hair dryer and then spraying them with cologne, abounds.
But what emerges from this ménage a quartre is a truth that Jean-Paul Sartre stated eloquently in “No Exit” (Huis clos), “Hell is other people.” Beneath the veneer of civility Alan believes in the god of carnage; Michael was once part of a street gang; Nancy has little use for anybody; and Penelope cares more about her art books on the coffee table than she does about her kids.
Performances by the principal thesps are spot-on. Foster’s role is perhaps the most difficult because she plays totally against type. Winslet nails the stockbroker mother, and Waltz offers no trace of his native Austrian accent. Sharp-eyed viewers will remember Waltz as the bad guy in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”
Sole knock against pic is this: As an adaptation of a play it is stagebound. One can almost imagine a three camera, Desilu style shoot before a studio audience. Since Roman Polanski for legal reasons cannot work in the United States, the Brooklyn exteriors are all special effects. Interiors were shot in France. Pic offers little by way of dénouement, but an ultimate long shot of two boys in a Brooklyn park suggests that the combatants settled their differences better than their parents did.
Alexandre Desplat’s minimalist score leaves little to be desired. Lensing by Pawel Edelman is more than up to the task. Sound recording is fine as all dialogue is audible. Editing by Hervé de Luze is workmanlike.
“Carnage” is rated “R.” Aside from some language, there is little to upset children. They may even enjoy seeing their parents’ generation act like fools.