Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Carnage (2011) – Review

Review: Carnage is a claustrophobic comedy. Based on the play Le Dieu du Carnage, the film is about two sets of parents that amicably meet to discuss an incident involving their sons – it degrades quickly. Director Roman Polanski affects the viewer with his choices in this film that essentially takes place completely in one room, creating a piece that frustrates, causes anxiety and even gets on the nerves of its viewer yet is at the same time hilarious. It is a dangerous game Polanski plays with his audience – one that is not going to work for everyone, as I can see someone hating this as easily as loving it. The main culprit is that Polanski has the Cowans almost leave a number of times, but they just keep getting dragged back in, seemingly worsening the conflict each time (why can’t they just get out of there?!?). Polanski has it boil over then dissipate only to froth up again. However, the characters are fantastic (and played very well). Those that will ultimately like this film will be the viewers that take the characters at face value and just enjoy them. Most comedies these days play off juvenile circumstances or characters, but this is different (at least initially). Polanski presents adult characters – only to be reduced to seemingly juveniles by cracking under the pressures of societal norms. In a way, Polanski is saying that we are all children at heart (or baser animals once society is stripped away) and the brilliance of this film is watching these characters, all very much rooted in adult society, crumble giving into their emotions and agendas. Issues with the film mainly arise from the way the film interacts with its viewer – not all audience members will want to be emotionally engaged to the extent that Polanski intends. The ending seems a bit abrupt as well – but it does work with the epilogue, however. Carnage is very funny, but is much more than just a comedy as it deconstructs modern society.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Roman Polanski has made many great films, but I cannot think of another comedy. He makes the argument that the best directors can make a great film in any genre, and Polanski is certainly one of the best. I do not remember much music during the meat of the film, but the prologue has a great piece written by Alexandre Desplat (who scored the film). Pawel Edelman (who shoots all Polanski’s films, recently) does fantastic work, especially working with Polanski to block and frame each scene. This is the best aesthetic aspect of the film. While the characters are mostly trapped in one room, Polanski still has them constantly moving, keeping a kinetic energy going which keeps it from feeling dull. The production design by Dean Tavoularis is also very good. The Longstreet apartment is very telling in many ways. Ultimately, however, this is a film that lives or dies with the performances of its actors (there being only four main characters), and they are all on their games. Jodie Foster is so on edge during the whole film; the audience is just waiting for her to explode. Kate Winslet has probably the most rage to cover with Nancy Cowan – and as always she is fantastic. The juxtaposition of her early in the film to later on is a lot of fun. Christoph Waltz plays Alan Cowan as if he is the only important thing in the world, commanding the room. John C. Reilly (probably the least acclaimed of the group) steals much of the film however, as this being a comedy it is right in his wheelhouse. His bursts into juvenility are particularly funny.

Summary & score: Carnage is one of the best comedies of 2011. The audience and characters are trapped in a room, and cannot seem to escape. 8/10

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