Time Out says
Roman Polanski’s caustic and witty new film, ‘Carnage’ is a captivating and comic exercise in confinement and hysteria. Polanski has directed French writer Yasmina Reza’s hit play ‘The God of Carnage’ and embraces its roots in the theatre, running with the claustrophobia and immediacy of a war of words between two metropolitan couples that plays out in one place, in real time.
It’s an acting face-off for the film’s four actors – Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C Reilly – who are on screen almost the whole time – but Polanski harnesses any thespian one-upmanship to make it integral to each character’s need to dominate a deteriorating scenario.
‘Carnage’ shifts the story from Paris to New York, but the events are the same: a couple, Nancy (Winslet), a personality-free, high-flying city worker, and Alan (Waltz), a harried corporate executive chained to his mobile phone, come knocking at the apartment of Penelope (Foster), a self-consciously liberal writer, and Michael (Reilly), an amiable peddler of ‘flush mechanisms’, to discuss a fight between their young sons. Each couple attempts diplomacy, but words become weapons, prejudices rise to the surface and the evening collapses into a storm of anger, vomit, drunkenness and violence.
Polanski has always been a master of turning domestic spaces into characters, from the South Kensington home of Catherine Deneuve in ‘Repulsion’ to the coastal retreat of Pierce Brosnan in ‘The Ghost’. Here, the apartment is the fifth protagonist: a quiet witness to petty human resentments and a symbol of the lifestyles each character does or does not aspire to.
Only the credits sequences take place outside this middle-class hothouse. For the opening, we see the row between the two boys that kicked everything off and, for the closing, we witness another indecipherable encounter between them. Perhaps Polanski was thinking of the closing, credits scene of Michael Haneke’s ‘Hidden’, in which we also witness an unclear interaction between the offspring of parents in conflict. Both films prick at the sides of bourgeois entitlement. The big difference is that Polanski plays his film more for laughs than dread.
‘Carnage’ is a master-class in choreography as our four actors do a power dance around this New York apartment. If there’s an element that lets it down a little, it’s that the film’s final third feels too accelerated and mannered compared to the more sly gear changes of the earlier parts. The drunkenness and shouting come on too quickly and the shifts in allegiances, as gender gangs up on gender and partners start looking out for their counterparts, feel too rapid and neat.
No character emerges looking pretty from the film’s ugly scenario – but there’s a clear winner in the acting stakes. Waltz steals the show with his weasel wit, phone games and barely concealed amorality. He has one of the film’s best lines, too, when he half-smiles at Foster, who is forever beating her progressive drum, and says: ‘I saw your friend Jane Fonda on TV the other day.’