What happens in the playground stays in the playground. That is, until the parents get involved. After an altercation between two 11-year-old boys, the two sets of parents meet to discuss the incident. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) appear to be concerned and cautious, in opposition to the distracted Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz). Harmonious pleasantries soon turn into acrimonious stinging barbs. What begins as a matter surrounding the children quickly becomes a matter all about marriage and the burdens that come encumbered with parenthood.
Roman Polanski brings Yasmina Reza’s award winning play “God of Carnage” to the screen. Creating quite the sensation on international stages when it premiered, Carnage is less revelatory, but a definite success. At a perfect 79 minute runtime, Carnage balances the dark comedy well with the social relevance of parenthood. Both extremes of parenting are portrayed with the hovering helicopter parents (Penelope and Michael) to the wistfully vacant and unaware workaholics (Nancy and Alan).
Reza’s screenplay (along with a co-writing credit to Polanski) is sharp, hilarious and thought-provoking. The use of one-liners demonstrates rapid and comedic skill, established most fervently where Michael laments children as a construct in general and Penelope screams “I don’t have a sense of humour and I don’t want one!”
Noticeably lifted from a theatrical stage, Polanski utilises the small apartment space well, given his restrictions with only four characters. Timing is paced well until the final 15 minutes, where Polanski allows the film to become too farcical rather than dark and on the pulse where it was formerly.
With three Academy Award winners and one previous nominee, the acting foursome work well together and are mercilessly terrific. Jodie Foster has never been funnier on screen in a rare comic performance and bounces off John C. Reilly well, who hysterically transforms from submissive into almost chauvinistic. Christoph Waltz’s character is insufferable, but is played with an irresistible deadpan hedonism, torturing a very comedic Kate Winslet who, along with Reilly, has a revealing character change with one particularly disgusting bodily movement.
Carnage is an absurdist comedy that although requires a strong suspension of disbelief, proves to be accurately commenting on the trappings of Western parenting. In the vein of its four character, dialogue driven, stage adapted ancestors, Carnage continues in the lines of a much shorter and funnier Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Carnage is theatrically released in Australia on March 1 through Sony Pictures.