“Carnage” will do for apple cobblers what “The Help” did for chocolate pies.
Well, maybe not to the same extent, but the dessert does play a pivotal role in writer/director Roman Polanski’s dark comedy based on the French play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza. And despite what you might initially think about the film, which takes place entirely in an apartment with only four actors, its razor-sharp dialogue will have you as close to the edge of your seat as any action flick would.
Unfortunately, the ending will leave you there.
In “Carnage,” after two boys duke it out on a playground, the parents of the “victim” (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) invite the parents of the “bully” (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) over to work out their issues. A polite discussion of childrearing soon escalates into verbal warfare, with all four parents revealing their true colors.
The way in which the tension between the four parents intensifies, briefly placates and then intensifies again makes for an exceptionally uneasy mood in the room. Needless to say, the viewer is bound to develop a case of claustrophobia while watching “Carnage” unfold. However, as uncomfortable as it is to see these four people essentially turn on one another, the voyeur in all of us finds it strangely addictive.
Perhaps that is because Polanski’s dialogue is so incredibly amusing. After all, it has to be in order to make a movie like this work. Each and every line is as hilariously clever as it is horribly hurtful. Moreover, each of the four actors deliver said lines with complete commitment to their characters. In fact, they all give such pitch-perfect performances that it is impossible to pick any one of them as being better than another.
However, in terms of comic timing, Waltz will get the most laughs thanks to his straight-man approach. On the other hand, Winslet is clearly given the most manic material as her character butts heads with Foster’s, who is about as anal as all get out. Meanwhile, Reilly has never been more outstanding, balancing his character’s civilized hospitality and animalistic rage without a single flaw.
“Carnage’s” only defect, causing it to fall short of being one of 2011’s best motion pictures, is its ending. Granted, a scene that plays over the end credits is quite poignant, but these four characters deserve much better than a fade-to-black finale at the height of their argument. In spite of its Achilles heel, the movie is an extraordinarily entertaining look at incivility that will have you laughing and cringing at the same time.
“Carnage” (R – 79 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.