I don’t see how CARNAGE seemed like a good idea to adapt to the screen even on paper. If there was ever a stage play that absolutely did not make good sense to turn into a movie, this one would be it. What’s even more disappointing (for me anyway) is that had I seen the play and not the movie, I probably would have loved this story. However, as fate would have it, that alternate experience will now only exist in my imagination.

CARNAGE is director (also co-wrote this time) Roman Polanski’s latest film, which is a screen adaptation of the play GOD OF CARNAGE by French playwright Yasmina Reza (she is half Iranian for those keeping count). It all begins simply enough with two boys who get into an argument and one boy strikes and injures the other with a stick. The boys’ parents meet up to resolve this little spat in a cordial manner, which you can probably immediately surmise that such will not be the case. The victimized boy’s parents are played by John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster and the aggressor boy’s parents are played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet. The couples cannot possibly be more dissimilar in socioeconomic background. Reilly and Foster are a hardware/homeware parts salesman and a part-time bookshop employee/writer, respectively. Winslet and Waltz are an investment broker and an attorney, respectively. Everything begins pleasant and boring enough as the couples have just drafted a written statement that explains the incident between the two boys. Pretty soon (the film is about 1 hour and 20 minutes so things fast here) one seemingly innocent question turns into another and the questions turn into accusations and the accusations turn into shouting matches and destructive behavior. Hence, the film’s title, CARNAGE.

There are two random things about the film that I just have to get out now. First, did a second-unit director shoot the beginning and end credit NYC park scene or was that done via visual effects? Second, I find it very difficult to believe that Reilly and Foster make enough income to afford the very nice looking pad that is the film’s main location. I take it Roman Polanski has been out of touch with the common folk long enough to no longer understand how far money can really take you (or how much NYC costs to live in these days).

CARNAGE starts off interestingly enough. For one, I always look forward to seeing a Roman Polanski movie and his last film, THE GHOST WRITER, was a fantastic movie that I highly recommend. Furthermore, no other film in 2011 can match the casting caliber of Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Walt, and Kate Winslet. That grouping alone is worth the price of admission. So the first 10-15 minutes are spent just watching these actors interact with each other and pretty much do their acting thing. Given how little the couples have in common with each other and given that the only reason they have decided to meet is to amicably resolve the incident concerning their sons, there is no reason why they should spend any more time together than they need to. What’s more, Waltz is apparently involved in a PR crisis with one of his clients and he is constantly having to answer his phone to deal with the problem. He clearly does not and cannot stay. I knew the entire film takes place in this apartment/townhouse and so I was also curious how they would keep these couples together. Its also worth noting that the film takes place in real time so all the insanity that you’re anticipating from watching the trailers is supposed to happen fairly soon.

Well, I suspected I would not buy into why Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz decide to remain in the apartment. And I was right. Without giving anything away, a series of events and questions asked by the characters keep Waltz and Winslet from leaving. At first, when they’re about to initially leave, you’re like, ok, that’s a nice excuse to get them to stay, but as this couple can’t wait to leave, I don’t see how they’re really going to stay until the end of the movie. Well the reasons that crop up during the course of the film grow preposterous at one point and this is where the film begins to break down. Suddenly, the front that each character puts up in front of them breaks away and their true selves emerge. What we end up seeing from each character is honest, brutal, cruel, and violent. The characters begin a sort of therapeutic venting of all the problems they have in their lives, particularly their marriages. The film devolves into a philosophical exploration that, really, only an actor or someone who hates cinematic storytelling can truly appreciate. None of it feels real because there is no way that in the span of 1 hour, these complete strangers would act in the manner that they do.

As I alluded to when I began this review, CARNAGE is something that should have stayed on the stage. Films where actors hang out in one location for the entire film and use big words that confuse the average moviegoer are going to induce immediate sleep unless you live in a college town where the audiences are either going to be intellectual snobs or drunken/stoned college kids who have no idea what movie they bought a ticket to. Again, CARNAGE should be viewed on a stage, not on the screen.

Luckily, CARNAGE is not completely unsalvageable. The main reason anyone is going to see this film is because of the stellar cast. Of the performances in this movie, the most surprising was Jodie Foster and not in a good way. I found Foster to be way over the top throughout the film and I don’t know if that’s how her character is written or that’s how she interpreted the character. According to a press interview she did for the movie, Foster claimed that she has never seen the stage play so we can rule out the possibility that she based her performance on how her character is performed on stage. Anyway, I was disappointed in Foster’s delivery and it’s a rarity to see her this way.

As for the rest of the cast, what can I say other than everyone is absolutely great. Waltz and Reilly especially shine especially when they interact with each other. I was a little worried at first that Reilly would be completely overshadowed by the talents of the other actors, but he stands his own and it might be the best thing I have seen him do. Waltz reminded me a little of his character from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, which I didn’t mind in the least bit. However, he does need to work on his American accent a bit more because there were more than a few instances where his accent sounds strange.

CARNAGE is not a disaster of a movie and we can thank the cast for that. However, its also not a success by any means. The nicest thing I can say about it is that it’s a worthy failure that meant well. Till next time, Mr. Polanski.

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