CARNAGE is a razor-sharp, biting comedy centered on parental differences. After two boys duke it out on a playground, the parents of the "victim" invite the parents of the "bully" over to work out their issues. A polite discussion of childrearing soon escalates into verbal warfare, with all four parents revealing their true colors. None of them will escape the carnage.Directed by Roman Polanski (The Pianist), Carnage stars Academy Award®-winner Kate Winslet (Best Actress, The Reader, 2008) and Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz (Best Supporting Actor, Inglourious Basterds, 2009) as husband and wife Nancy and Alan Cowan, opposite Academy Award®-winner Jodie Foster (Best Actress, The Silence of the Lambs, 1991; Best Actress, The Accused, 1988) and Academy Award®-nominee John C. Reilly (Best Supporting Actor, Chicago, 2002) as Penelope and Michael Longstreet.
As a director, Roman Polanski has always had a genius for finding the divide between civility and blunt self-interest, and then merrily Evel Knieveling over it. (John Huston's line in Chinatown
about people being capable of anything at any given time says it all, really.) Carnage
, Polanski's follow-up to the genially wicked Ghost Writer
, can't entirely transcend its stage-bound origins (Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning God of Carnage
), but it works as a fantastically nasty showcase for some immensely talented performers to get down with their bad selves. Think a mixed-doubles tennis match, with cherry bombs. Kicking off with a deceptively placid shot of kids at play, Reza and Polanski's screenplay follows the thermonuclear differences of opinion that occur when an upper-crust New York pair (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly) invite another couple (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) into their apartment in an attempt to resolve a scuffle between their children. Verbal dustups of all shapes and sizes quickly follow. For all of Reza's celebrated dark wit and way with a punch line (the running gag involving a hamster just kills
), there's a rather flowcharty feel to her scenario here, with the various escalations and shifts in allegiance between the four coming at fairly predictable intervals. Thankfully, Polanski keeps things moving at an expert clip, mainly by taking his cast's most distinguishable characteristics (Reilly's cuddly everyman quality, Winslet's repressed earthiness) and cinching them all a few notches too tight, particularly in the case of Foster, who delivers a merciless lampooning of her own intelligence. (The most outwardly reprehensible of the lot, Waltz's Blackberry-obsessed lawyer, somehow comes off the best, simply by being self-aware.) First-daters may want to stay far, far away, but in Polanski's hands, Carnage
delivers a brisk, blackly hilarious 79 minutes in the presence of some wonderfully bad company. --Andrew Wright