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Monday, November 28, 2011



"Wait. Roman's guilty of what?!"

There isn't very much you can dissect about a 75 minute film, that takes place almost entirely in a single room, with only four actors. Sure, there will be unavoidable comparisons to Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage, and there will be comparisons between the casts. Stage-to-screen adaptations seem to pull thespians out of the woodwork to defend Broadway. But, much credit is due to the screen in this adaptation, mostly for borrowing someone's toy without breaking it. At the very least, Roman Polanski plays well with others.


While researching the film before my viewing of it, I ran across the review written in The Hollywood Reporter, here. Interesting read from Todd McCarthy. He posits, in the opening paragraph, that Polanski is at his best in tight spaces, citing Knife in the Water and Repulsion as examples. Generally, I would agree. He seems to operate with his actors more comfortably when he has them confined to one or two areas. The more uncomfortable the characters are, the more he shines, oddly enough.

Carnage imagines what might happen when the adults behave like children. There's a schoolyard incident where one boy armed with carrying a stick strikes another boy in the face, a few times, knocking out a couple of teeth. The parents of the victim are Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster). The parents of the aggressor are Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet). From simple formula, we assume these people won't get along. At first, Alan and Nancy couldn't be more ready to leave. Coaxed into staying with coffee, espresso, peach cobbler, and subtle jabs at the dignity of their child, they sit and get drawn in. It's not like they want to be there. A number of times, they almost get in the elevator but get talked into coming back inside. From this, we get deeper and deeper into the mindset of each parent, not just as a unit, but as individuals surviving within that unit.

In situations like this, the director isn't entirely necessary. There isn't much of a mark outside of the framing that they can leave, nor is there much of a need to. It's almost a "name" thing. But, in certain situations, you'll get a director like Polanski who not only leaves his mark on even the smallest of details, but on each actor as well, who seem to be almost reinvented in his eyes, through his lens. We don't associate any of these four actors with drunken, loud mouthed, vulgar people. Okay, well maybe vulgar for John C. Reilly. (he spread his butt-cheeks as Mike Honcho, after all). But, mostly, there's a sense of demure that goes with these actors. All Oscar-veterans, all students of theater, all have decades of experience.

Alan is a lawyer, Nancy is an investment broker. Penelope co-wrote a text book once, and Michael sells doorknobs and decorative fixtures. There's stuffy, and there's suburban hippie. And never the two shall meet. Once the booze comes out, though... and after Nancy gets physically sick and vomits all over priceless books of Penelope's... and after Alan won't quit answering his cell phone... and once Michael opens his mouth and says what's really on his mind... well, all Hell breaks loose and the adults quickly become mirrors of their children. McCarthy refers to this in his review as "Virginia Woolf" syndrome, the inability to maintain composure with other characters in a small space once alcohol comes out. I like that. I'm gonna use it.