MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Here comes a piece containing the spirit of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, a terrific play (and indeed 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) that I had the pleasure to study a few years ago. This obvious inspiration made me extremely eager to see Carnage, the new film directed by Roman Polanski and directly based on the French play, God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. Like Albee’s work, it places two couples who have never met into a single house for its entire duration and through the use of dark comedy and social realism it presents the deep bitterness and malice in the hearts of the humdrum middle aged.
Carnage is created through the meeting of two sets of parents who come together to discuss an incident between their two sons. The 11 year old son of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reily) was struck with a stick by the son of Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) causing the Cowan’s to go over to the Longstreet’s house to rationally talk over the situation like good, civilized adults. Well, for a short while at least.
This is a film that clocks in at a mightily impressive 79 minutes and it certainly benefits from its brevity. Set in a single location, it naturally feels rather claustrophobic as we watch the civility of these characters implode. Winslet, Waltz and Foster are all really convincing in their roles with Foster particularly standing out as the self righteous mother of the ‘victim’. Although there’s an appropriate amount of absurdity mixed into the realism, I couldn’t help but feel Reily’s performance was perhaps the film’s only real misstep. I’ll come clean and say I’m not one of his biggest fans and here his laid back mannerisms and trademark goofiness don’t really fit the tone of the piece.
One highlight involves a really good running gag concerning Waltz’s character who is obsessed with using his phone at the most inappropriate moments. It does get rather absurd but like most of the absurdity in this film, it’s held together because we all know people who are like this, and some of us are probably more like these characters than we like to admit.
The black humour is generally well performed and its balancing of absurdity and realism is what makes this a really interesting and socially revealing movie. It’s fundamentally a comedy-drama but it also has an awful lot to say about the pettiness of our lives and the frivolousness of western problems. You’ll laugh, think and almost certainly cringe. Carnage is a dark mirror to society and one that many will take great pleasure in the gaze of its reflection.
Carnage is out now in the UK. Running time 79 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
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Review by David Rank