If you happen to be in a relationship that’s, um, teetering, or if you’re currently experiencing major marital troubles and you’re looking for something super-escapist to catch at the movies, do not go see Carnage. Go see box office champ Sherlock Holmes, or go get Chip-wrecked with Alvin & Co. Maybe you could even watch Tom Cruise, more determined than ever to stay relevant as an action star, in Mission Impossible IX.
But don’t see Carnage.
This new film, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly is a very sharp portrait of couples who do one thing but are quite another. It’s also savagely funny and very claustrophobic, and over time the characters unravel and become very scary people indeed. Totally worth watching – unless the dissolution of upper middle class marriages and wild displays of hypocrisy aren’t your bag. Of course, there are probably a fair number of people who don’t want to watch anything connected to Roman Polanski, and this’ll probably diminish viewership.
If none of this bugs you, definitely go see it because it’s a nifty bit of mental gymnastics. With crack performances.Carnage was originally a play on Broadway called God of Carnage and deals with the aftermath of a playground brawl that leaves one of two eleven-year-old boys minus some front teeth. The action revolves around a single meeting of the boys’ parents, and it starts out with a veneer of icy civility as the two moms and two dads try to determine responsibility. Because it was a play, the language feels really dense at first, and also because it’s a play, all the action’s in one single location. For the movie, this all essentially stays the same. The language remains dense (although you do get used to it), and the single-location part makes it all feel hyper-claustrophobic (which you don’t get used to, but that’s the point).
It’s an easy movie to watch but it’s not an easy movie to consider because you’ll have trouble finding alliances and heroes and heroines – since there really aren’t any. There are just four people who represent elements of ordinary people we all know, played by four of the best actors working in movies today. Foster has the most glittery role, as the snippy repressed “liberal” wife who gets into it repeatedly with Waltz, a bored and cynical lawyer. The ever-likeable John C. Reilly, plays the “good natured” one, while Kate Winslet plays the lovely, lushy one. Nor, from the opening credits to the closing ones, does the tension dissipate – ever.
I won’t give anything away but if you do choose to see it, you’ll see all of these archetypes turned upside down; the movie zips along and comes in nicely at under an hour-and-a-half – and when it’s all done the characters (and possibly you too) will be completely winded.
Kate Winslet’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe here, and I’m honestly not exactly sure why all the actors weren’t tapped. Absolutely go see Carnage if you’re curious about 1) Broadway plays that become movies, 2) the deterioration of “polite society”, 3) the ways in which men and women differ, and/or 4) what Christoph Waltz’ post-Inglourious Basterds career looks like. It’s a very good and gritty movie that will intrigue and exhaust you. But if you want to see three Oscar-winners (and one who will be some day) strutting their stuff, check Carnage out.
1) Jodie Foster
2) Christoph Waltz
3) Kate Winslet
4) John C. Reilly