(Sony Pictures Classics) Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, God of Carnage, takes a sharp look at what lies beneath society’s sheen of civility. When feathers are ruffled and identities are threatened, do people descend into chaos and carnage? God of Carnage takes a case study of two sets of parents who seem a picture of wealth and sophistication, only to tear them apart as tensions rise. Roman Polansky’s film adaptation showcases four of the most talented actors working today, and pits them against each other in Carnage.
Polansky opens the film with an additional scene that removes the audience from Reza’s enclosed space of a New York apartment. Two 11-year-old boys get into a skirmish on the playground; Zachary Cowan jabs poor Ethan Longstreet with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth. This seemingly mundane altercation brings together the boys’ parents in a New York City apartment – an apartment they just can’t seem to leave.
Though polar opposites, the two couples emulate a crisp politeness as they settle down to discuss what should done about those pesky boys of theirs. Penelope Longstreet (Jodi Foster), a left-wing liberal writer, discusses her charity work, while her easy-going husband Michael (John C. Reily) scrambles to make the Cowans at home. Nancy and Alan Cowan are not quite as convincing as a happy couple. Alan (Christoph Waltz)’s superiority complex is almost as irritating as the incessant ringing of his cell phone. A stealthy attorney, Alan peppers the conversation with brash phone conversations about his dirty pharmaceutical client. Nancy (Kate Winslet) is a ticking time bomb – a bundle of nerves and annoyances bubbling below the surface.
The result is nothing short of side-splitting madness. Alan’s smug smirk soon gets to Michael, who busts out the scotch. As the afternoon progresses, lines are drawn and wars are waged. The women vary between shrill and neurotic, attacking each other and their husbands. The initial argument over who should pay for little Ethan’s dentistry is quickly lost in the shuffle of judgment and latent aggression.
Christoph Waltz, as ever, steals the show. That gleeful leer we grew to love in Inglourious Basterds is back, with a ferocious distaste for weakness. That’s not to say the other actors don’t each have their own time to shine. Kate Winslet plays a blubbering drunk (not to mention the particular physicality of her role) with reckless abandon. Seeing one of the most poised actresses in the business let loose with a sloshing glass of scotch in her hand is an utter treat.
Michael and Penelope are such polar opposites that it’s a wonder they ever married. John C. Reily could write a thesis on being the slovenly underdog, and as he starts to stand up to Jodi Foster’s shrew of a wife, their battle turns inward. Foster shrieks and stomps like a spoiled Veruca Salt, easily the most obnoxious of these overgrown children. All four mesh well together, carrying the claustrophobic film through a brisk 70-minute deconstruction of civility.
An absurd look at marriage, social constructs, and immaturity, Polansky's adaptation is pure fun. If you need a quick reminder that your family isn't all that nuts this holiday season, check out Carnage for a brief respite.
For Fans Of: Hannah and Her Sisters, Inglourious Basterds, Running with Scissors
Why We Like It: Kate Winslet, Dysfunctional Family Comedies, Based on a Play
Sony Pictures Classics' 'Carnage' is out in limited release Friday, December 16, 2011.