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Indie Snapshot: Carnage

by admin December 16, 2011 5:58 am
Indie Snapshot: Carnage

To borrow the title of the opening number from March of the Falsettos, Roman Polanski's new film Carnage could also be entitled Four A-Holes in a Room Bitching. An adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, the film unfolds in a single location in real time with an exceptional quartet of actors (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly) circling each other like hungry sharks, biding their time before going in for the kill. Thanks to the cast's nuanced performances and Polanski's fluid camerawork, the movie never tips its hand too strongly towards its stagebound origins. By the time Carnage's 80 minutes are over, the space these characters share -- a sizeable Brooklyn apartment -- has practically become their (and our) whole world. Life may exist beyond its walls, but all that matters is what's taking place in that room.

What brings these four people -- actually, two pairs of married couples: Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) and Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) -- together is a playground disagreement between two children. Their children to be specific; Nancy and Alan's son Zachary scuffled with Penelope and Michael's son Ethan and wound up knocking out two of his teeth. In the wake of the fight, their parents meet to discuss what happened like the mature, responsible adults they like to believe they are. The afternoon starts civilly enough, with the four of them drafting a letter in Penelope's home office in the apartment she shares with Michael and then adjoining to the living room for cobbler and coffee. As their discussion continues, though, various resentments and internal tensions bubble to the surface. Alan's constantly ringing cell phone, for example, is a regular source of irritation for his wife and he doesn't exactly endear himself to their new "friends" by revealing that he's a lawyer currently defending a major pharmaceutical company from a lawsuit over one of their drugs. Meanwhile, Penelope -- a brittle person by nature -- has an increasingly difficult time masking her irritation over Alan and Nancy's lackadaisical approach to child-rearing and her own husband's buffoonery. It's only a matter of time until the gloves come off and once they do, the harsh words and screaming matches flow fast and furiously.

Much like the stage version, which initially starred James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis, a great deal of Carnage's appeal lies in watching talented actors flip out on each other in close quarters, as if they're on a tonier version of Big Brother or Celebrity Rebab. As expected, this group is more than up to the challenge, skillfully ping-ponging off each other in amusing ways. (It's tough to single out an MVP, but if anyone deserves that title, it's probably Winslet, who manages to stay classy even when vomiting up her cobbler.) Keenly aware that this is an actors' showcase, Polanski composes wide frames that give the cast plenty of room to move about the room and also keep the movie from feeling too claustrophobic. If Carnage ends up feeling a little thin despite these pleasures, that's probably due to the source material. Reza's text is filled with plenty of darkly comic lines, but its insights into the foibles and follies of the privileged classes aren't exactly revelatory or even all that convincing. Come for the cast and stay to watch them all have feature-length breakdowns on camera.

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