Alan: My son did not disfigure your son.
(A few minutes later)
Penelope: Their son is a threat to homeland security.
(some minutes pass)
Penelope: The victim and the criminal are not the same.
(a little later)
Nancy: These people are monsters….I want to get drunk
(she picks up more of the hosts’ fine scotch even as she’s abusing them)
Carnage (2011) is one movie we now enormously regret not watching in the theatre.
Unfortunately, it was in limited release in the U.S. and the nearest screening involved a round trip of 130-miles, too far for our creaking bones.
So when we noticed the film yesterday as a new release in the Red Box kiosk outside our local grocery store we immediately whipped out our credit card and made a grab for the DVD.
Just $1.22 for a 24-hour rental.
After all, the movie is directed by Roman Polanski, the brilliant, ass-fucking pedophile filmmaker.
Plus Carnage features three Oscar winners, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, besides the Oscar nominated John C. Reilly. (None of the Oscar honors were for this film, by the way.)
Schmucks, how many Bollywood films are you aware of featuring three Oscar winners.
Four Oscar winners, if you include Polanski, who picked up the Best Director Academy Award for The Pianist (2002).
Carnage – A Gem
We quickly returned home, poured ourselves some a lot of sweet Australian Merlot (Yellow Tail, $11) and sat down to watch Carnage.
By the time, we finished the movie we were not as sloshed as our two girls Penelope or Nancy but in a state of “pleasant serenity,” to borrow a phrase from Carnage.
Polanski’s Carnage is a gorgeous film that movie buffs of any nationality just cannot afford to skip.
Essentially, there are just four characters in the film, two married couples.
And 99% of the movie is filmed in the living room of a New York City apartment.
Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) are over at Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) and Penelope Longstreet’s (Jodie Foster) place.
We soon learn that Alan is a lawyer, Michael a plumbing equipment seller, Penelope is a writer and Nancy an investment broker.
No, the couples are not old friends getting together for a drink.
The couples have assembled to discuss Zachary’s severe beating of Ethan in the Brooklyn Bridge park.
Zachary is the Cowans’ son and Ethan of the Longstreets.
The two school boys are never seen at close quarters, only at a distance. That too very briefly, at the beginning and at the end.
Then there are a bunch of voices on the phone, Michael’s ailing mother, Walter and one or two others.
Small Setting, Big Emotions
As those exposed to the endless run of crappy Bollywood films well know, it’s very hard to make a good film.
And even harder to make a brilliant one within the close confines of a single room.
Prior to Carnage, the only such movie we’d seen was the old black and white film 12 Angry Men (starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet).
The brilliance of Carnage, like 12 Angry Men before it, lies in coupling a strong screenplay with powerful acting by a peerless cast and topping it off with an ace director.
Polanski and Yasmina Reza wrote the screenplay based on Reza’s acclaimed play Le Dieu du Carnage (God of Carnage).
Like in the jury-room of 12 Angry Men, what happens inside the living room in Carnage is more important than the incident that triggers the meeting.
What starts off as a conciliatory exercise (over the incident involving the boys ) between the two couples descends into a vicious, no-holds barred, eviscerating, screaming fight in the end.
It doesn’t take long for the facade of civility to break down not just between the two couples. But between the husband and wife in each couple as well.
At the outset, they quibble politely over words in a note Penelope is typing describing the incident in the park.
Christoph Waltz’ Alan is clearly unhappy about the use of the word ‘armed’ to describe his son. The word is quickly deleted and replaced “carrying a stick.”
The mood is beginning to darken.
Although politeness and civility still reigns, you sense tension in the air.
The polite facade continues as the four adults discuss how to handle the unpleasant incident involving their sons.
Not for long, though.
The angry interjections start coming.
You never know who’s going to lose it next.
Will it be the sarcastic, disdainful Alan, the composed, friendly Michael, the barely-able-to-control-her-anger Penelope or the uneasy Nancy?
One of the clever tricks of the film is that the ones who appear mild and subdued initially erupt with a Vesuvian ferocity later.
People throw up food and throw out vitriol.
Vomit and Vitriol, what a potent combination.
Actually, the veneer of civility crumbles for all four.
Finally, it’s all abusive screams with the men turning into sons-of-bitches and the woman into howling bitches.
In retrospect, the first call Alan receives on his cell phone and his response is a harbinger of all that follows.
In different ways, a metaphorical carnage is repeatedly played out over the span of 80-minutes.
A carnage of one against all, all against one and all against all.
Carnage is a brilliant play of adult emotions over a trivial children’s incident.
Under the deft direction of Polanski, the four fine actors deliver performances so solid it’s hard not to be spellbound.
As time goes by, Carnage is certain to attain greater stature as a master act by the sodomist Polanski.
Stupid Not to Watch
It requires stupidity of a high order not to watch Carnage.
Unless you’re the kind that gets a hard-on only at the sight of the Khans or Rajinikanth doing something silly, you’d watch Carnage.
Carnage DVD should be available at Netflix or your neighborhood Red Box kiosk in the U.S.