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Carnage - review

Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz

Review by Tim Carson

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

WHETHER you think Roman Polanski should still be making films or whether you think he should be locked up in an American jail there is no doubt that the work he produces is of the highest quality and lots of actors want to work with him.

In Carnage he has assembled a top-notch cast and all of them are on fine form. John C Reilly and Jodie Foster play Penelope and Michael and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet are Alan and Nancy, two couples who meet to discuss a fight between their two 12-year-old sons. Alan and Nancy’s boy hit Penelope and Michael’s son in the face with a stick knocking out two of his teeth.

Everything starts off perfectly civilised with both sets of parents going out of their way to be nice. However, it’s not long before that façade begins to slip away and all four adults start to express their true feelings.

In just over an hour – the film takes place in real-time – things go from strained politeness to total carnage. The cracks in both couples’ marriages appear and are then prised apart as partners switch sides and attack. Soon it’s not just Alan and Nancy against Penelope and Michael but Alan and Michael against Penelope and Nancy – and numerous other combinations.

It’s naturally a little uncomfortable and also very funny. The actors clearly enjoy the opportunity to cut loose and tear into one another with great gusto. There are some fantastically barbed lines for them to throw around and some clever “stage-craft” to get them interacting.

Nancy throwing up all over Penelope’s rare books and Alan’s ever-ringing phone finally taking a bath in vase of flowers spark just some of the film’s funniest moments. But there are plenty of low-key laughs to be had too from Michael’s rodent rage to Alan’s frequent assertion that he thinks his son’s a little shit.

The film is based on a French play The God of Carnage and while it never feels like a film of a play, thanks to Polanski’s sharp direction, it does suffer a little from the real-time structure.

The descent into chaos feels a little forced and rushed and while a bottle of scotch helps loosen things it doesn’t seem credible – it’s like they all have one drink and are all suddenly wasted. It pushes the film a little too much towards farce at times undermining some of the more subtly portrayed observations.

It won’t – or shouldn’t – win any awards but 80 minutes in the company of four such excellent actors with a clever, witty script and a great director means Carnage is time well spent.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 80mins
UK Release Date: February 3, 2012