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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Movie Review: CARNAGE


"You're blowing this all out of proportion!"
-- Michael Longstreet

Carnage is a 2011 black comedy directed by Roman Polanski that serves as a film adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage. It follows the story of two couples who are trying to come to terms with the fact that one of their son's assaulted the other. After Zachary Cowan hits Ethan Longstreet with a stick causing serious damage to his face and mouth, the Cowan parents - Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) - go to meet the Longstreet parents - Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) - in order to figure out what their next move should be. Ultimately, Penelope and Michael want Zachary to apologize to their son, but as the argument and debate, which doesn't always stick to the desired topic at hand, starts to escalate, more and more information about the assault comes to the forefront, causing more and more strain between the once-cordial parental meeting.

I have to be honest and say that I didn't know much about this film going into my viewing of it. I had seen the early theatrical posters and had heard that it had opened to relatively good reviews from critics, but I didn't even know it was a Polanski film until the title credits started to roll. In a sense, I was going into the film a little bit blind, only knowing that the caliber of acting was sure to be above the average standard. And often times, that's the best way to go into a film: without any predisposed notions as to whether it will be truly good or truly bad. Fortunately, I lucked out with Carnage.

Let's start with the film's screenplay. The storyline offers a very simple premise: the two boys get into their fight - a short, far-off scene playing behind the title credits that will be missed if you're not paying attention - and we immediately cut to the parents devising a written statement of the account of what happened between their children. Had the best of intentions been kept, the film could have easily ended there, but where would be the fun in that? The Longstreets do their best to be cordial, inviting the Cowans to stay for a while as they try to understand the reasoning behind their boy's action. As the conversation gets deeper, however, more personal information about each couple surfaces, and the opposing couple ultimately attempts to use that information as a way to slander the other into painting a different portrait of their general character.

Ultimately, this film simply shows one extended scene that lasts basically for the film's entirety. The discussion and argument is probably one of the most realistic I've ever seen portrayed on-screen, and the feel of the argument is so genuine that it feels completely real and natural. The ebbs and flows in the conversation work perfectly, and the changing of allegiances is so beautifully-crafted that it's immediately acceptable and bitingly hilarious. In fact, the comedy is so perfectly-placed that I found myself rolling with laughter for most of the film. Now, it's a black comedy, so this brand of humor isn't exactly for everyone, but for those of you able to appreciate it, I'm sure you'll find it just as comical as I did. My only slight issue with the screenplay was that the ending was a tad bit predictable, but I personally think it's the only way the film could have ended and have retained its comic power, so in this instance, the predictability can be forgiven.

We're lucky enough to get an all-star ensemble cast bringing these characters to life. If you look at the cast list, you'd be hard-pressed to find a way to think they would under-perform. Between the four of them, they have a total of twelve Academy Award nominations with four wins under the belts, so to expect anything less than their best would be a little bit foolish. And boy do they deliver. A lot of the buzz has gone to our female leads, both of whom have landed Golden Globe nominations for their performances, but I would like to salute our male characters as well. I personally think Waltz offers the film's best performance, and while he's not quite on par with everyone else, Reilly does a fantastic job in his role. I think he's made a little bit of a fool of himself in the past few years with his collaboration in some not-so-great comedies, but Reilly has the ability to be a very good or even great actor when he tries to be (see: 1997's Boogie Nights or 2002's Chicago). At the end of the day, Carnage has a brilliant cast that's firing on all cylinders, and they convey the screenplay and the story perfectly.

As I previously stated, Carnage's brand of comedy isn't going to be for everyone. It's a little off-the-wall, and it takes a little time to build to comedic level, but once it hits that pitch, the film slams on the pedal and doesn't let off until the final credits roll. If you're into black comedies, then this one's going to be right up your alley. I think everyone should at least give Carnage a chance, but just know that you should probably be a fan of this brand of comedy if you hope to truly enjoy the film.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

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