Carnage Movie Review

Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet in Carnage
Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet in Carnage - © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Fancy a trip to the theatre? No, you’d rather go to the theater? Why not compromise and go see Roman Polanski’s Carnage.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, God of Carnage, the film stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly as two sets of parents attempting to reconcile a playground incident between their sons. Sounds simple, right? It’s anything but. Presented in real time, we see a myriad of layers peeled back amongst all four characters. What begins as a superficial attempt at civility drifts into rage and superiority projected in every direction, finally giving way to understanding … gained with the help of liberal amounts of Scotch.

The writing is razor-sharp, with every actor benefiting from the best dialogue of 2011, co-written by Polanski and Reza. And speaking of actors, Polanski and the audience are graced with a wealth of riches. This is a true ensemble effort, with no one person necessarily outshining any of the others, and everyone understanding that all of their acting abilities are enhanced by giving the script the respect it deserves.

However, if one were to highlight specific actors, this is a case of the gentlemen begin able to ever so slightly outshine the ladies. Waltz is understandably excellent as a hard-nosed, cold-hearted lawyer who is dragged to the meeting by his wife. Yet it’s Reilly who really shows the kind of dynamic range and evolution that actors always hope for in a character. It may be a very tight race among actors in the upcoming awards season so splitting votes won’t help either case but for audiences, it’s a win-win.

If there is a negative to the cinematic version of the play, it’s the one apartment setting, static from a production design aspect but that isn’t as big a negative as it could be because the screenplay is so intelligent. The layout is clean and contemporary, allowing easy transitions between the actors and the short 79-minute runtime helps ensure no one gets restless.

Polanski’s touches are more evident in the pre-shooting process, as the core of the production stems from rehearsals that allowed the actors to figure out their characters and get on the same page with the director. Once shooting began, his efforts were about camera movement and technical aspects; it was the actors’ show from there.

For audiences who appreciate whip-smart dialogue, three-dimensional characters and superb acting, run, don’t walk, to see Carnage. It’s a breath of fresh air amidst the cinematic landscape, mixing relevant and relatable concepts with some of the biggest laughs of 2011. Assuming you don’t think Adam Sandler is the modern-day version of Shakespeare, this one is worth a trip to the theater. It does retain the feeling of watching a stage-play but that’s not such a bad thing in a film, when everything is put together so well.


Carnage is rated R for language.