Polanski’s Carnage is a fantastic slap in the face

By theredraylives | February 22, 2012

Carnage
dir. Roman Polanski
Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz
Four and a half Stars out of Five

Going in, the excellent trailer makes pretty clear the way the plot is going to unfold, and in even that, one can imagine precisely what the film will be trying to say. In browsing through a number of other reviews it is clear that the reviewers were put off by this. Polanski’s newest outing is a fantastic film- ever heard how it is the anxiety of the owners that causes dogs meeting one another for the first time to fight? That’s exactly what is on display here, and despite a few shortcomings the film is superbly directed and acted. One feels uneasy the entire time watching the film, trapped, claustrophobic, which is precisely the point. The entire runtime, the only question really going through anyone’s mind will be, “what is the point of all this?” Waltz nails it as the film ends, and though the theme was obvious, it was executed wonderfully. Spoilers to follow.

At the onset of the film, we see one boy violently attack one another with a stick- that boy is Zachary Cowan, who cracks Ethan Longstreet with the stick and ends up breaking a couple of teeth. To hash out the incident, Zachary’s parents Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) have come to visit Ethan’s parents, Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly). The two couples do their best to make nice and be cordial about the incident, but friction abounds as one parent clashes with another over and over, a fragile peace occurs, and friction is quick to resurface. The film’s runtime is only 80 minutes, and it absolutely vanishes- it is so engrossing and entertaining to watch that there is never a risk of attention being removed from it.

The film’s wonderful immersion is due to the incredible cast that fills out these characters in full in every single way. Winslet, Waltz, Foster, and Reilly are all fantastic in their roles, with Waltz absolutely stealing the film with a hilariously cynical and detached performance (his character in particular is so easily identified with because he seems to serve as the vessel for the audience and from the get-go clearly does not care). Winslet’s character is very subdued early on in the film, but she erupts brilliantly as the film progresses- she is a teapot building closer and closer to boiling every moment. Reilly is probably the most perceptive of the characters in that he seems to be more aware of the awkwardness and tension the moment the four parents meet, but does his best to mediate and get through it. Foster’s character is neurotic and very ironic in her worldview, and she is the only of the four parents who refuses to ever suggest that her son might not have been totally innocent- her “always right” attitude serves as a catapult toward conflict over and over. The entire cast is fantastic the entire way through, and if it has a weakness it would be Foster, who goes way over the top as the film builds toward its climax.

Aside from some bookends at the schoolyard, the film is entirely set in the apartment and hallway of the Longstreets- the film is shot incredibly as the entire apartment feels very tight, very claustrophobic, and it feels uncomfortable- the tension oozes all over the entire setting and one keeps hoping that the Cowans might escape, that these two families might step back to actually ask themselves what they’re getting so upset about and come to a resolution. Yet they are magnetically drawn back in until the four of them snap, finally unloading their frustrations about the world, their families, and their lives over the conflict between their children. They surrender to the inevitable clash and have it out, and the film ends no further toward resolution than it was at the beginning…

… at least for the parents. By the end of the film, Waltz notes that they are just children, and at times, they get into fights- ultimately, the question is, “what is the big deal?” As the film ends, it ends on the playground with the two boys, playing together and having fun. The children have moved on, but the tragic reality of the helicopter parent is doomed to force them back into it. After this confrontation the boys are going to be dragged together to apologize, will be barred from seeing one another, and will be dragged through hell by their overbearing parents, who will use them as vessels to try to solve their own problems. George Carlin once said, “if you want to know how to help your kids: leave them the f&#! alone!” That lesson very much applies here. The parents have so much to learn from their children, but will instead force their bitter worldviews onto them.

Roman Polanski does an admirable job here and found the perfect cast to tell this story and everything comes off without a hitch. Despite some minor quarrels with Foster’s overacting, the film is an acting tour de force and it is criminal that it received zero Oscar nominations (not even for best adapted screenplay!)- the Golden Globes also sadly overlooked both Reilly and Waltz. This little gem of a film can’t get enough attention- make it a point to see it as soon as you can! Four and a half out of five stars.

By Nicholas Haskins

If you haven’t yet, check out the amazing trailer! You can find this review and other reviews over at my examiner.com page. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or book my face. Also, be sure to follow along on Black Entertainment USA as I live-blog the Oscars! Coverage begins at 6:00 PM on Oscar Sunday!! See you there!!!! Hopeless emptiness. Now you’ve said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

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