2012, R, 79 min. Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 13, 2012

A common complaint lodged against films adapted from plays is that they never unloose from the staginess of their origins. But in Carnage, adapted by Yasmina Reza and director Roman Polanski from Reza's hit play God of Carnage, that essential confinement and airlessness is temperamentally on point: Seventy-nine minutes spent with its faux-polite but distinctly fanged Brooklynite parents will have you climbing the walls, so to speak, that constrict the four leads.

In Brooklyn Bridge Park, one boy grabs a stick and takes a mighty whack at the other. Polanski – or more likely his second-unit director as the bulk of the film was shot in Paris – frames this inciting incident in a dialogue-free long shot, with an impartiality infeasible for the parents of the bully and his bullied. Indeed, the whole of the film is about what happens when the mothers and fathers meet to discuss the fight only to pick up the metaphorical weapons themselves.

Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play Penelope and Michael Longstreet, the parents of the victimized Ethan, who invite Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), the parents of Ethan's aggressor, over for coffee and conciliation. (Neither Reza nor Polanski is a native English speaker, but they share an ear for the bafflegab of helicoptering parents.) Despite efforts to keep cool – Winslet and Reilly play the peacemakers of their respective couples – soon enough the politesse gets discarded like used coffee grounds and the Longstreets’ well-appointed living room becomes a sort of theatre of war.

Carnage, all told, is a slight work, and the filmmakers' obvious disdain for the characters – a caricature klatch of closet conservatives, alpha-male boosters, bleeding-heart liberals, et al. – grows wearisome in the film's last stretch, especially as the actors are encouraged to oversell their increasing inebriation. Still, the script is chockablock with al dente amusements – obvious targets still make for wickedly funny one-liners – and the German actor Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) is terrific as the only parent unburdened by decorum. The scenery may be thin, but Waltz chews it with wolfish abandon.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Roman Polanski Films
Venus in Fur
The play’s the thing in Roman Polanski's erotic screen version of the Tony Award-winner.

Steve Davis, Sept. 5, 2014

The Ghost Writer
Polanski is back in the saddle with his new political mystery thriller, which stars Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 26, 2010

More by Kimberley Jones
We Have an Issue: “Free Wrapping Paper Since 1981”
We Have an Issue: “Free Wrapping Paper Since 1981”

Dec. 8, 2023

Truly moving biopic of musical leviathan Leonard Bernstein

Dec. 8, 2023


Carnage, Roman Polanski, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle