This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 15th April 2012
Two couples meet in the middle-class bohemia of a New York apartment to discuss a violent incident between their two school-aged sons.
Whether Zachary was “armed” with a stick, or had been “provoked” by Ethan into losing his cool, this argument is the catalyst for an afternoon of accusation, retribution and attempted reconciliation (though not strictly in that order).
Adapted from an award-winning play by playwright Yasmina Reza and director Roman Polanski, the action happens over a crisply articulated 80 minutes, principally in one room. The audience’s engagement in such a relatively static piece of cinema will depend entirely on its appreciation of the spiky dialogue, amusing performances and its tolerance for the insufferable characters.
And it’s the headline cast that should have you at “hello”. Three Oscar winners (Foster, Winslet and Waltz – we don’t even need their first names) and a nominee (it’s only a matter of time before John C Reilly’s buffoonish talents are rewarded) perform this chamber piece.
As any parent would, they start off civil and personable, discussing unrest in Africa and nodding in agreement that “culture can be such a powerful source for peace”, before gradually revealing themselves, warts, wrinkles and all to be as obnoxious as anyone you’re likely to meet on the PTA. Soon we have Foster wailing “I am an advocate for civilised behaviour!” while Christoph Waltz’s mobile phone rings off the hook and his uptight investment banker wife (Winslet) shoots him evil looks.
It does go on a bit at times, rather like the end of a drunken party when people ramble and you glance longingly at the door, but to its credit the pace is kept high and the terrific performances maintain momentum (Waltz is the standout in the company of brilliance).
Carnage is as mannered and theatrical as a one-room, cinematic adaptation of a stage play is bound to be, and no less enjoyable for it.