Film Review: Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz Shine in Roman Polanski’s Surprisingly Average ‘Carnage’

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CHICAGO – Roman Polanski may not seem to be the first choice for a film about culture clashes in New York City but he has notable experience with dramas with only a few characters in a few locations (“Knife in the Water,” “Cul-de-sac,” “Death and the Maiden”). He knows how to build character tension through interaction – the games people play with words. Sadly, “Carnage” doesn’t quite deliver on the same level (or Polanski’s notable best) as the Tony Award-winning stage play but there are still elements that work here. Given the Oscar pedigree of the people who made it, one can’t be blamed for expecting a bit more from it, but there’s definite value here, particularly in a pair of great performances. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

In one of the Yasmina Reza’s greatest mistakes in adapting her own play, we actually see the incident that was only referred to off-stage in the original as one boy hits another boy in a park. We don’t hear what incited the assault and the focus quickly switches to where it will reside for the bulk of this short film – the New York apartment of the Longstreets, the parents of the assaulted child. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) are doing their best to hide their anger at Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) as they cordially converse over cobbler while the Cowans conceal their disdain for even having to be there.

StarRead Brian Tallerico’s full review of “Carnage” in our reviews section.

The first act of “Carnage” is easily the best as things start to get under the skin of the quartet of characters. It starts relatively slow. Nancy is stunned that Michael essentially killed his daughter’s pet, a crime she considers significantly worse than that for which her son is currently being castigated. The Longstreets are increasingly perturbed every time Alan answers his phone and behaves as if there’s no one else in the room while he conducts business. Michael and Alan clearly play a few alpha male games as they have two very different worldviews and professions (it might be a little too simple to say that Alan comes off conservative and Michael is the liberal, but it’s not far from the truth). After Nancy pukes cobbler all over Penelope’s art books, which she probably put out just to impress anyway, things slide downhill quickly. When the alcohol comes out, the fighting escalates.

And then it just kind of ends. “Carnage” ultimately feels too slight and inconsequential to really matter as a piece of art. It’s about two egocentric couples who would never even meet if their kids hadn’t been in a fight, but it doesn’t exactly work as character statement or social study. The theatrical source of the material can always be felt as the Longstreets and Cowans never come across as fully three-dimensional, especially Winslet’s Nancy, who is horribly underwritten.

StarContinue reading for Brian Tallerico’s full “Carnage” review.

“Carnage” stars Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, and John C. Reilly. It was written by Yasmina Reza & Roman Polanski and was released in Chicago on January 13th, 2012.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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