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Carnage (AF)


Stars: Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Elvis Polanski, Elliott Berger

Director: Roman Polanski

Apart from the brief opening scene – a long shot where one boy (Elvis Polanski) slugs the other – ‘Carnage’, adapted by Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski from Reza’s internationally successful stage play ‘God of Carnage', takes place entirely inside the apartment of Foster and Reilly who are the parents of the lad who punched Winslet and Waltz’s young son.

Despite the restricted set(s) (effectively designed by Dean Tavoularis) it’s to Polanski’s credit that ‘Carnage’ rarely seems stagy. Actors and camera move effortlessly but happily without auteuristic flourishes from cinematographer Pawel Edelman so that you listen and watch intently as what begins as a polite visit by Winslet and Waltz to ask for an apology slowly and convincingly transforms into an increasingly unpleasant liquor-fuelled confrontation that strips the masks of good manners from its middle-class protagonists.

Fuelled by alcohol, escalating unpleasantness, verbal and visual, breaks out between the four with Winslet (with a perfect American accent) taking the lead after eating Foster’s home-made cobbler by vomiting vigorously over the cobbler dish and worse still, over Foster and Reilly’s beloved art magazines. A quartet of fine performances brings the characters potently to life – yoghurt-weaving type Foster, somewhat brutish Reilly, initially refined Winslet and Waltz, who spends more time on his cellphone conducting business than in engaging in the verbal warfare raging around him.

Echoes of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' are redolent and obvious. That said ‘Carnage’ has the edge on Albee’s screenplay and Mike Nichols’ direction of the film since here the performances are credible and compelling whereas in the over-lauded 1966 film Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the sparring spouses overdid it in the manner of desperate rep actors. (I was fortunate enough to see the definitive performances by Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill on stage in London in 2006).

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Duboicolor.
80 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 29 Jan 2012