Sunday 22 July 2012

Carnage (2012) - Roman Polanski

"Let's get out of here...these people are monsters."

Yet eighty minutes later, will these two couples ever reconcile their differences and part ways?  In Polanski's film, based on 'God of Carnage' by French playwright Yasmina Reza, two couples are thrown together when their sons have a scrap.  The adults meet to smooth things over but, as the title suggests, carnage ensues.

Why Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) don't leave earlier is a joke.  When they enter the home of Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C Reilly), both couples are stereotypes who become grotesque.  Though the film touches on larger themes - parenting, adulthood, married life - it rapidly takes a turn for the absurd and focuses more on humour than thematic complexity.

Polanski's direction is assured.  As Carnage is based on a play, events take place within the confines of the flat.  Thankfully the film is far from static.  Early on the camerawork is still and poised but later, as things heat up, the camera shakes and moves with growing agitation.  The close-ups remain constant throughout, maintaining the intense, claustrophobic atmosphere.

Polanski also draws some excellent performances from his cast.  Nancy and Alan are the hard-working, business-focused parents, snotty and stuck-up in their suits; Penelope and Michael, casually attired, are the homely parents whose love for their son is visibly unconditional.  At the opening, conversation is stilted and polite, filled with awkward pauses.  Gradually, as they realise the gaping differences in their social and political views, the superficial barriers of civility are utterly demolished as the couples' moral boundaries are pushed to the extreme.  Aided by alcohol, their behaviour becomes barbaric and animalistic as you'd expect from the children rather than their parents.  The symbolism of Nancy's vomit doesn't go unnoticed, the true feelings of all four characters literally erupting verbally from them.

The front door frequently opens, but Nancy and Alan never escape the "monsters" they've encountered - or become themselves.  The film is thus far from believable, though it succeeds for the central performances.  Never has chaos been so entertaining.