Thankfully, the title of Roman Polanski’s brisk, four-character comedy of manners Carnage is the most distressing thing about it. A Manhattan-set adaptation of Yazmina Reza’s French play The God of Carnage, this sneaky chamber piece casts a beady eye over the fallout of an incident in which one schoolboy injures the other with a branch. In a nice touch, the incident is shown underneath the opening credits in a distant, Michael Haneke-esque long take.
The boys’ parents (the perpetrator’s played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, the victim’s John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) convene to sort out the mess, but before long they are arguing with other, and riffing on all sorts of issues of parenting, class, wealth and relationships. Also, it seems that deep down, they all really, really hate each other.
At just 79 minutes, Carnage is lean, but even so starts to feel a little stretched by the end, as the escalating hysteria of the characters (inspired by copious whisky consumption) becomes a touch enervating. The underlying theme is that adults are just as capable of behaving as appallingly as children, and the cast demonstrate this with absolute relish. Christoph Waltz has a field day as the unctuous, smug lawyer Alan, and Kate Winslet gives brilliant drunk. Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a neurotic writer feels rather forced, but it’s a type of role I’ve never seen her play before, and is least a refreshing change. John C Reilly is also excellent, but may need to consider disassociating himself from roles in films which feature subplots about cruelty toward hamsters (see this and We Need To Talk About Kevin). The RSCPA will be onto him before long.
Although (*COLOSSAL INSIGHT ALERT*) Carnage feels rather stagey and a tad contrived, the dialogue is sharp, the apartment set feels appropriately claustrophobic and there are plenty of laughs to be had, the majority of them excruciating. Fans of movie vomiting scenes will also be delighted to find there is a sequence (sickuence?) which nearly matches that of Team America: World Police for comedy/gross-out value.