Friday, March 30, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Carnage (2011) ***½

R, 80 min.
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Yasmina Reza (also play “Le Dieu du carnage”), Roman Polanski, Michael Katims (translation)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly

Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” strikes a bit of a different chord in light of the recent controversy over the rating of the documentary “Bully”. “Carnage” isn’t about teenage bullying, but that’s what inspires the events that take place in it, sort of.

Based on a play, the story focuses on two sets of parents whose lives come together when one couple’s teen boy hits the other couple’s son with a stick. The four adults start out their meeting with complete civility and level-headedness that most parents could only hope they would have in a similar situation. The “victim’s” parents are writing a statement about the incident to give to the other parents. This seems to be a legal consideration, but nothing about litigation is ever mentioned until the courtesy between the adults has deteriorated. The attacker’s father is a lawyer.

This was just supposed to be a brief meeting between these people, but somehow they can’t seem to break off their engagement. The screenplay, co-written by the playwright Yasmina Reza, is quite ingenious in how it keeps these people at each other’s throats when they clearly all want this to just go away.

The casting is key to making the situation work. Jodie Foster is a bundle of nerves as the mother who wants the kids to have reconciliation. Kate Winslet comes off as prudish at first, but she’s asked to perform some of the more extreme elements that go into keeping their game going. Christoph Waltz, who was so charming as the evil Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds”, is a perfect embodiment of all the things we hate about lawyers. And the oafish in appearance, John C. Reilly may seem like the one of these things that is not like the others, but he shows that even those who appear to be different fall back on the same debased qualities that drive our more primal natures.

Perhaps the most significant element in this story, however, I suspect was purely a product of Polanski’s own twisted imagination, since it couldn’t have existed in a staging of the play. The final shot of the film tells a whole other story about the boys who sparked this whole debacle that proves how parents—no matter how hard they try—will never truly be in tune with their children.

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