Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Opens locally Friday, January 13th, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour 19 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz
Based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer, The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby)
It’s no secret that adults sometimes act worse than the children. Carnage is proof.
When the film opens up with a wide shot of a group of kids playing in the park, all seems normal. As we watch, one child picks up a stick and whacks another in the face. Who would have thought that this would be the most civil of actions we would witness over the next 80 minutes?
After this opening scene, Carnage sets its sights on the parents of the two children involved in the conflict. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are Michael and Penelope Longstreet, the parents of the child who was struck with the stick, resulting in the loss of two of his teeth. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play Alan and Nancy Cowan, the parents of the child who made the strike. The four are together, as responsible cordial parents would be in such an instance trying to find acceptable resolution and consequence. They are putting the finishing touches on an apology letter that both sets of parents seemed to have collaborated on.
What starts as polite and required interaction between the two sets of parents slowly unravels throughout the course of the film leading to unexpected chaos that builds and builds. This film could have been titled Parents Behaving Badly. Over the course of the film, each of their unique personalities add to the havoc. They have come together because that’s what responsible parents do, but they all have their own opinions on what has happened, and how each of the others may have led to their children’s actions.
The entirety of the film takes place in the apartment loft of the Longstreet’s, making it quite apparent that this story was made for the stage. All four of the leads are also the only actors in the film, save for the wide shots of the kids as seen from the apartment window. Carnage cleverly progresses, meandering its way through.
However, the meandering goes on so long that Carnage could have been ticketed for loitering. For a movie that is only 87 minutes, you will feel trapped in the Longstreet’s apartment for much longer than that, with an unnatural instinct to jump out of the window to freedom. You’ll acknowledge the witty script and message of the film – that us as adults (and/or parents) are no better behaved than our children – but that message is delivered in the first few minutes or so. Sitting through Carnage is like hearing the same joke being retold over and over again…a somewhat funny joke mind you, but played on repeat it becomes stale and boring.
Carnage won the “Best Ensemble” award from the Detroit Film Critics Society, but many of the performances - mainly Jodie Foster’s – are just played way over the top. On stage, this extra punch of exuberance would work well, but on screen it would have benefited from reigning things in a bit.
As all hell breaks loose in the Longstreet’s apartment, and as the fate of the two children hang in the balance, we learn in the end that the children had long gotten over what the parents seem to be obsessing about. The irony of the situation makes Carnage funny andinteresting enough, but when stretched out for too long, the film becomes just as petty and trivial as its subjects.
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