Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) sees the controversial director return to the minimalist cinematic stencil of his claustrophobic debut Knife in the Water. Adapted from Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage and starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christopher Waltz, Polanski’s latest foray into the bourgeoisie world of Manhattan is a perfectly pitched, pressure cooker of a chamber piece with a ferociously cynical comedic framework.
Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) Longstreet have invited Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) Cowan over to politely settle a playground dispute between their children which left the Longstreet’s son outwardly ‘disfigured’. Penelope is the driving force behind this parental intervention, with her staunch human rights views fuelling this civil coming together of minds. However, whilst Nancy is keen to accommodate Penelope’s eccentric ways, her husband is far more concerned about a current work issue, which involves him being constantly attached to his cell phone and never fully invested in the proceedings. Slowly this pleasant veneer of mutual hospitality soon washes away revealing the dark personalities of these highly strung, uptight New York professionals – with a full scale war of words rapidly escalating beyond the point of reprieve.
Much has been made of the film’s quartet of performers, with Foster and Winslet both nominated for best actress honours at numerous award ceremonies last year. Clearly thriving under the thespian origins of the script, each actor successfully delves deep in to the idiosyncratic mannerisms of their character, creating a collection of thoroughly engaging performances – each feeding of the explosive energy of the other actors that surround them. Indeed observing these incredibly watchable actors conceive such hideously detestable, upwardly mobile socialites is perhaps the most enjoyable element of this suffocating comedy of errors.
The most technically remarkable feat of Polanski’s latest feature is the intensely claustrophobic surrounding in which the film’s action plays out. Confined within a single apartment, the French-Polish director amplifies the film’s oppressive atmosphere through some subtle symmetry that allows the cast to constantly surround, and in turn trap the viewer within, this escalating clash of self proclaimed intellectuals – only allowing us a few fleeting rest bites from this stifling composition in which to witness the calamitous events unfold through some unobtrusive first person perspectives. It’s these deft touches by Polanski, and his reluctance to rely too heavily on the film’s tight and witty script, which transforms Carnage from merely a theatre adaptation into something far more cinematic and sequentially entertaining.
Polanski’s Carnage is a thoroughly engaging comedy that never over stays its welcome – a brilliantly sculptured movie which effortlessly shifts tone between cringe inducing tautness and some delightfully dispensed dry wit.
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