Friday, January 20, 2012

More Drama

A caveat: If I had remembered before I bought my ticket that my newest review topic Carnage had been directed by Roman Polanski, I would have kept right on walking. This isn't any criticism of Polanski's talent, which is unquestioned. What I do have a problem with is supporting the career of a convicted child rapist who fled the country at the first sign that his plea bargain wasn't going to be everything he dreamed of. I'm not even sure how respected (and a few not so respected) actors can stand to be in the same room with him, let alone work with him in a professional setting, as there is no doubt that he is a fugitive from justice. I'm not a legitimate movie reviewer. I don't get paid to write what you read three times a week. I do this because I want to. That means every time I pay for movie ticket to a movie, I'm doing so because it's a film I for some reason want to see, or at least don't have any major objections for doing so (yes, even Bad Teacher and Red Riding Hood). In sitting through Carnage, I went through with what would normally be a deal breaker: supporting a movie I didn't feel deserved my hard earned money.

Any minute now...
That being said, Polanski's latest effort - based on the award-winning God of Carnage by French playwright Yasmina Reza - is a talent packed comedy about two sets of parents who attempt to come together in a conciliatory fashion after the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) gets into a fight with the son of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster)  and strikes him with a stick, knocking out two of the boy's teeth. In the Longstreet's New York apartment, the four start out in a pleasant enough manner that gets becomes increasingly strained as the four eventually and dramatically vent their issues with one another. This isn't limited to the argument between the couples, as each spouse turns on one another as well in their own version of the schoolyard squabble.

Aaaaany minute....
Whether or not you've seen The God of Carnage on stage, you have to admit that Polanski does a very good job bringing the popular play to the silver screen. As a film that takes place in real time, with no obvious breaks, we're treated to the entirety of the story's battle of egos, as none of the combatants are eager to let their enemy have the last say. I was reminded in the first few minutes of Sartre's No Exit, in which the characters stay in one room, the entire time, with no ability to leave no matter how much they might wish to. Early on it is coincidence and good intentions that keep these four people in the same apartment together. Later on it's a less wholesome mix of pure arrogance, pride and booze. I loved that the film leaves no breathing time to allow the characters to visibly deflate, and that the slow, anxious beginning actually leads SOMEWHERE; before the four actors began bickering I was sure the film was headed towards sheer boredom.

There it is!
When the film gets to that point, it's the actors who make it happen, and if this were a battle of the sexes, the ladies would walk away with it all. Don't get me wrong, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly do more than just fine in their roles. Waltz plays a lawyer whose whole existence would be on a business call if he could help it, and is as smarmy and repulsive as you would expect a sleazy lawyer type to be. And Reilly plays the buffoonish self-made man well enough, especially when the whiskey comes out and he does his best imitation of friend Will Ferrell. But it's truly the actresses who make themselves stand out, from Kate Winslet's privileged woman constantly annoyed by her husband's constant business and his disregard for their son's behavior to Jodie Foster's human rights author who is the only one who really believes there could be a peaceful reconciliation between the sons. Foster especially is engaging, and when she really brings the volume you can see veins throbbing in her neck., so dedicated is her performance. Winslet is not far behind, and especially towards the end does she stand out, at times even dominating Foster in pure screen presence. My only complaint is that while all four are portrayed as juvenile and unlikable, it seemed to me that the script intentionally allows the women to be far more forgivable in their hysterics, while the men are simply portrayed as assholes. In what would have been a great story about four unsavory people, the subtle reverse sexism is not unbelievable, but perhaps just a little unfair.

Yeah, well, he had it coming
Of course, there's not much more to Carnage than adults arguing inside the walls of their living area. Fortunately, this simple concept works enormously well, and thanks especially to some great acting from the film's cast, it's one pulled off so perfectly that it almost makes up for an agonizingly slow start and a knee-jerk ending that would works on a stage but feels completely out of place on the screen. If you want to see something a little different in the theater now, and you have no problem paying money to see the product of a child abuse fugitive on the big screen, then Carnage might be worth a couple of hours of your time. Otherwise, you're just as well off seeing it later, or perhaps seeing the stage play and skipping this altogether. I can't tell you what to do with your money; I just wish I'd been more judicious with mine.

1 comment:

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