Roman Polanski’s Carnage works fantastically well as a portrait of social etiquette and the human condition. The film should have audiences laughing, although it has a deeper resonance than simply humour.
After Nancy and Alan Cowan’s son gets into a playground fight with the son of Penelope and Michael Longstreet’s son, both sets of parents agree to resolve the dispute at a meeting. The meeting begins cordially, with all four adults agreeing on the best course of action to take. It does not take long, however, for the atmosphere to descend as the bickering begins…
Originally a play, it is easy to see why Carnage would work on stage, with the vast majority of the action taking place in one apartment. Thankfully, Yasmina Reza’s screenplay also works well on screen. With a running time of under ninety minutes, Polanski’s film feels brisk and energetic. Sufficient time is allowed for the situation to develop, but incidents never feel laboured.
Carnage explores the dynamics of appearance and social conventions in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking. The breakdown of etiquette is something that is directly referenced by the characters. It is as if the couples undertand their social faux pas, but are too overcome by the notion of carnage to stop themselves. The desintegration of normal social behaviour is depicted in a realistic way; it is gradual rather than rushed.
Comedy in the film is frequent and hits the right note. There is some physical humour, which does generate laughs. More integral than this is the wit of the screenplay, with cutting remarks inducing much of the comedy. Polanski’s direction is great in balancing movement in the very controlled environment.
Performances from the four leads are excellent. Christoph Waltz, in particular, excels as Alan Cowan. Waltz brings energy to the role, as well as relish in the demise of social etiquette. Kate Winslet holds her own as Cowan’s wife Nancy, while Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly make good antagonists in the form of the Longstreets.
Carnage is a great comedy. The film depicts a level of intelligence, which does not detract from the universal enjoyment of it all.