Carnage is one of those films that felt simple at first, but underneath each character were layers of thoughts, feelings and ideas that were unexpressed. Carnage is a rarity — it’s one of those experiences that I wish I had more often at the movies. The entire film takes place inside an apartment. Roman Polanski, who directed and co-wrote this film, crafts a story with Yasmina Reza (based on her play) about two children. One child hit the other with a stick and the parents of both children agree to meet at the apartment of the injured child to come to an agreement about how the matter between the children will be resolved. The resolution of the fight between the two children is supposed to come in the form of an apology that the attacker states to his victim.
The first set of parents are Michael and Penelope Longstreet, and their son Ethan is the victim of the assault. Penelope and Michael, played by John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster respectively, are very good-natured, relaxed people who believe in solving their problems in writing and being courteous and respectful. The other married couple in this film is Nancy and Alan Cowan, played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet. Nancy and Alan are business professionals and want the assault matter solved quickly. Over the course of the film’s hour and fifteen minute running time, arguments arise regarding which child is at fault in the assault and which child should apologize to the other. The discussion leads to comedic mishaps, judgments, and anger on behalf of both parties. The film is essentially about an inciting incident that causes two couples who have different lifestyles to come into conflict. I loved it.
Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz do some of their best work here as Nancy and Alan Cowan. Nancy is so refined and uptight I was just waiting for her to lose her cool. Alan Cowan is basically a slow explosion that just builds every time something negative happens with the business he is part of. I am now convinced that Waltz is a master of controlled anger. He can turn his emotions on and off better than most leading men working in Hollywood today.
Penelope and Michael are people who you see every day. They will be nice to you in person and then talk behind your back the first change they get. The real shock of this film isn’t the damage the couples cause to each other, but the damage they cause internally to themselves.
I love the way this film is shot. The camera moves with the characters most of the time rather than cutting away or cutting to the next scene. Roman Polanski has a way of filming the expressions of actors so that every detail in an emotion is on display. This technique makes it incredibly easy to tell when the tone will shift from hilarity to tense anger and back again. At the end of the day, Carnage is a giant blame game between two couples that gets out of control. It made me conclude one thing: sometimes chaos is fun to watch.