By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2011--CARNAGE  Send This Review to a Friend

As director and co-screenwriter with Yasmina Reza, adapting Reza’s play “God of Garnage,” Roman Polanski is solidly in his element of creating maximum tension. “Carnage,” which opened the 49th edition of the New York Film Festival (September 30-October 16, 2011) demonstrates how two couples, trying to deal in a civilized manner with the son of one couple having assaulted the son of the other couple, descend into chaos and hostility against each other and also against their respective spouses. Like the play, the film is extremely funny as it satirizes behavior and can stand as a metaphor for a world gone mad as well.

For those who have seen the play, comparisons are inevitable. Apart from an establishing outdoor introduction and a corresponding ironic outdoor conclusion, the action as on stage takes place in the Brooklyn apartment of Michael Longsrtreet (John C. Reilly) and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster), the parents of the boy whose teeth were hit. They are visited by Alan Cowan (Cristoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet). The names have been changed in the film for no reason that is apparent.

The primary difference from the play as seen on Broadway and the film is the change resulting from new casting. Actors inevitably have different takes and qualities. The screen role filled by James C. Reilly, for example, was handled on stage by James Gandolfini—two opposite types. The part played on film by Cristoph Waltz was done on stage by Jeff Daniels.

The primary alterations concern the women. Winslet doesn’t convey the odd humor that Hope Davis achieved on stage, even at her angriest. Winslet’s performance, on the other hand, is mostly one note and not very funny, although she dishes out the sarcasm effectively and creates a solid portrait of a woman on the edge. The most significant change is the way Foster handles her roles as opposed to the way it was done in the theater by delightful Marcia Gay Harden.

Harden extracted much comedy from her role even as she grew progressively angrier. She was especially adept at conveying the satire in depicting the character’s pretentiousness as a lover of culture and as a do-gooder. It was a very funny performance.

Foster’s demeanor is anger from start to finish. She is shrill and nasty and not in the least bit likable. It works for the tone of this film interpretation, but making the film less sophisticated than the play. The close-ups tend to accentuate the bitterness Foster displays. It is precisely the kind of performance that will strike some people as excellent and others as off-putting. Both Reilly and Waltz are first-rate in their roles.

More people are likely to see the movie than have ever seen the play, and therefore the differences won’t matter. What you see is what you get, and “Carnage” offers plenty in its acerbic look at human nature and the anger and frustration that often lurk beneath the surface of what might at first sight seem solid marriages. It also is revealing for the clash of values dissected in brittle, lacerating dialogue. A Sony Classic Pictures release.


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