Review by Stu - Carnage
Any chef in the world knows the secret to fine cuisine is the ability to take high quality ingredients, combine them well and serve lovingly to an awaiting audience. Ingredients can be as simple or complex as per the needs of the meal, some of the greatest dishes in the world consists of as little as three or four ingredients. The challenge therefore is to discover which ingredients work best together in order to enhance the overall qualities of each individual flavour. The balance of contradictory flavours can be enticing and supremely satisfying. It is this idea of balancing of flavours which must be kept in mind when thinking of Carnage, the latest film by Roman Polanski. This film is a drama based around the interaction of its four protagonists and what they individually bring to the table. Ultimately, this interaction should deliver a stimulating and enjoyable experience to its audience.
This film has a cast which can only be described as an embarrassment of riches. Carnage is set in the home of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C Riley and Jodie Foster) as they host Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet). We first meet the couples as they are finalising a statement of facts in relation to a playground assault during which Alan and Nancy’s son struck Michael and Penelope’s son across the face with a stick - resulting in the loss of two teeth and lacerations to his face. What follows is the gradual decay of decency and good manners as the couples continuously debate the playground incident and the parenting style which may be responsible for the violence. This debate eventually turns to politics and gender roles which are at times slightly predictable, in that it doesn’t really offer a new angle; we understand that men and women don’t always understand how the other sex thinks or reacts, and many self-help books have been written on the topic. The comedic aspect of the film basically revolves around the fact that Alan and Nancy keep attempting to leave the apartment, however they are always drawn back inside, either through the lure of coffee and cake or the desire to keep the argument raging. At first this is amusing in a comedy-of-manners-sense, but it’s hard to stay enthused after the fifth time.
Returning to balance; does this film achieve a harmonious blend of drama, comedy, tension and wit? Sadly it does not. As described earlier, the cast is amazing and most film makers I imagine would do terrible things to good people in order to get such acting heavy weights. The cast is a blessing and a curse in that they are all clearly committed to their roles but they don’t blend well. Christoph Waltz may forever carry the burden of playing Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a role which he played with such mastery it may actually taint the rest of his career. John C Riley and Kate Winslet are passable in their performances, they both make transitions which are easy to see coming up the predictable highway. The weakest link in the quartet is surprisingly Jodie Foster, this is a role which should have be perfect for her laidback and wholesome charm, but somehow she manages to sound whiny and cold when she should have been the source of compassion and warmth. Towards the end of the film there is a frightening scene where Jodie Foster manages to strain and contort her face in a way which would be more appropriate in one of George A Romero’s zombie films of the late 1970s.
Carnage could have been assisted greatly by a better screenplay. Due to the nature of the setting, being four people in room for an hour and a half, it needed a far snappier script. The screenplay required more of the touch that writers like Aaron Sorken (A Few Good Men and The Social Network) or David Mamet (Heist and Wag the Dog) can deliver. I look at films like Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery which stars Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Angelica Houston and Woody Allen, which depicted how well four people can communicate on screen. To a lesser extent look at what Seinfeld accomplished with only four protagonists.
Carnage is not a bad film by any means. It is a thought-provoking and at times amusing film which is a return to prolonged banter between big and bold characters. I enjoyed certain elements of the film and was less impressed by others. I don’t think I would return for a second helping from chef Polanksi’s buffet.