The Flick Chicks

Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Carnage | Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly | Review

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Carnage

As a child we are all told, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.”  In truth that depends on an individual's emotional and psychological strength, because words can be just as hard hitting, brutal, and damaging.  Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Yasmina Reza's highly acclaimed stage play “God of Carnage” brings that point to light in its story about two married couples that get together to discuss an unfortunate afternoon mishap involving their kids.

Polanski has assembled a stellar, all star cast that includes three Oscar winners, Kate Winslet (The Reader), Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds), Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs) and Academy award nominee John C. Reilly (Chicago) who skillfully interact with each other.

Except for the opening and the closing scene as the credits roll, the entire movie takes place in real time inside a stylish apartment and the hallway outside its door. Due to a long ago sex scandal that has him wanted by U.S. authorities, Polanski filmed the apartment scenes on a Paris set, but you would never know it as he has believably recreated a N.Y. abode complete with credible window views of the surrounding city.

It starts off with us watching in a distance as several kids walk along in a park. Before you know it some words are spoken and one of the kids picks up a stick and uses it to bash another in the face. The setting then moves to the spacious, stylish Brooklyn apartment of Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) Longstreet, parents of 11 year old son Ethan (Elvis Polanski), the victim. The Longstreets have invited the Cowans, Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) the parents of Zachary (Eliot Berger) the bully, over to iron things out since Ethan's injury was a result of a deliberate, vicious attack that caused him to require some expensive dental surgery.

On one side of the enfolding clash is Penelope (Foster) the high strung, liberal minded writer working on a book about the plight of the impoverished people of Africa. But more immediately, she is infuriated over the violent act perpetrated on her son.  Her hardware salesman hubby Michael (Reilly) appears to be the more easy going, friendly, regular kind of guy,  that is until he feels pushed to the limit.  In the next corner, we have Kate (Winslet) an investment broker/financier, whose outer countenance is demure and more uptight than her other half, Alan (Waltz) a ruthless hot shot corporate lawyer that can't stay off his cell phone for more than five minutes or so to the annoyance of his wife and the others. Alan is so filled with self importance, that his pharmaceutical case is utmost on his mind and not the matter involving his “monstrous” son.

What starts off with a cordial discussion over coffee and dessert soon escalates into harsh verbal attacks , accusations and blame about parenting and discipline. As tempers rise and fall, other issues such as pent up feelings about their perspective partners are brought to light and true colors are eventually revealed beneath pretentious shells.

During the course of the film, there is a disgusting, vomiting scene where Nancy heaves up the home made peach cobbler dessert over Penny's valuable table top art books, coffee table, and Alan's suit.  You would think that, in itself, would be enough to warrant a fast exit, but no matter how many attempts the Cowans make to leave before and after this incident, they keep getting pulled back in. Eventually, Michael opens up a bottle of booze, which leads to another can of worms being opened as inebriation takes hold and alliances are shifted.

Losing sight of the original topic for the meeting, what unfolds is an exercise in civilized people resorting to primitive behavior. Forget the sticks and stones, when verbal ammunition is the weapon of  choice.  No one is left uninjured.  It's not pretty and although the film is labeled a satirical comedy, I didn't find it the least bit funny.

Carnage works more as a showcase for the quartet of stars to display their formidable acting skills and they do the best with the material given. However, by the time the 80 minute film reached its conclusion, the cast of characters with all their ranting, raving, and mood swings had surpassed their welcome.  Not so, the closing park scene that lends some irony to it all.

A better movie, which is very similar in structure and premise is Mike Nichols' award winning 1967  “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal about two couples who engage in verbal warfare at a dinner party.

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