December 26, 2011

MOVIES: Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

A child has been assaulted, and a group of well-meaning but rather clueless adults come together (in the absence of both the perpetrator and the victim) to argue about what would be a just resolution. Hmmm....what might have attracted Roman Polanski to such a story?

Carnage, based on Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage, is a talky bore, marred by miscasting, loathsome characters, and a story that simply isn't all that interesting.

The setting is the New York apartment of Michael and Penelope (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), whose son has been attacked by another boy; the assailant's parents, Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet), have agreed to a meeting to discuss the situation.

And the next 79 minutes (yes, the movie's that short, which is mercy in this case) are utterly predictable, as the veneer of polite civility breaks down (especially once the booze is broken out), and the four find themselves shrieking sub-Albee insults and accusations at one another.

Waltz comes off the best of the four, with a vicious icy politeness that never quite fades and does nothing to disguise the fact that he's the most ruthless of the four, and the one who's least interested in being there.

Foster is badly miscast. There needs to be a sharp class distinction between the couples, I think, with Foster and Reilly being more nouveau riche than the other couple, who come from older money; Foster feels as if she'd be far more comfortable in Winslet's role. Reilly is somewhat better suited to his role, though he lacks the physical menace that I think the part needs. (James Gandolfini played the role on Broadway, and Matt Dillon was originallly announced for the part in the movie; either would have been an improvement.)

But ultimately, the problem is that there's no story here to hold our attention; it's just four people in a room being nasty to one another. The movie's message doesn't seem to go any deeper than "people are bastards, especially when they're pretending not to be."

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