Friday, August 24, 2012

War of the Words.

Film: Carnage
Year: 2011
Director: Roman Polanski
Written by: Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski, based on the play "God of Carnage" by Yasmina Reza.
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.
Running time: 76 min.

Words. Sometimes we underestimate how brilliant they are. Sure, you can build a story with words written down on a page, but a story built around words that are spoken is way more exciting. Carnage is a perfect example of that. Instead of the script saying that someone is going to pull out a gun to create a bit of tension, the actors get to throw insulting words at each other. Okay, so words can't kill you, but I've always thought that cinematic words create more tension than having another gun pop up. Guns are so old-school. They don't mean that much in the movies any more, apart from an easy road out for a character or a pointless accessory used to up the badassery points. Words can mean anything you want them to. Especially if you have all the right words in all the right places.

Carnage takes place almost entirely in the apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly respectively). The story is relatively simple: they invite fellow parents Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) into their home to sort out a dispute between their children. In the first few minutes, the matter is seemingly resolved, and the Cowan's go to leave the apartment with the matter behind them. However, they're reeled back into the apartment due to a range of various circumstances, before having a drink and letting all of their inhibitions go, starting a verbal war.


I haven't seen Yasmina Reza's original play, but I can tell that this probably would have been a little better to see on stage. The material isn't exactly cinematic, with limitations to just how much you can do within such a confined setting - an audience could pick up all of the little sparks flying in the scenes, whereas the camera can only pick up a portion of that. However, while I can't comment on the justice that Reza and Roman Polanski did to the original play, they managed to craft a script filled with zest and plenty of bite. Words are what keep the film on a high-wire, with many different conversations about all sorts going on. I found it funny that I'd forget what the aim of the movie actually was, but then one of the characters would remind me of how "off-topic" they were. For some reason, that just seemed very realistic to me. I love conversations, and this movie has more than enough, even if most of them are off-topic. It was just...natural.

Carnage is driven by the characters, with only four key players making up the entire film. Their conversations wouldn't have been anywhere near as exciting had they all been the same sort of people. The sparks fly because of how different they all are, and how that makes them react to each other. Both Penelope and Nancy are slaves to the idea that they can be perfect, though this means very different things to either of them - Penelope wants to be perfect by doing good things, Nancy just wants to appear perfect. Michael, on the other hand, can give being perfect a go, but there's only so much he can take. Alan doesn't care about anything either way, unless it involves his phone. They all have completely different outlooks on life, which makes for some exciting conversations. You know how we're always told that "the world would be boring if we were all the same"? Carnage is the biggest advocate for that.


The performances are perhaps the film's greatest asset, with four great actors breathing more life into an already lively script. The way they interact with each other is what makes the film, but the individual performances were extremely underrated last year. Jodie Foster is great as the most emotional one, bottling up her inhibitions a lot longer than the rest of the crew. John C. Reilly's performance was great too, even though I spent the whole time being angry at his character for what he did to that poor hamster. Kate Winslet pulls out yet another stunning term, playing the "bitch" with a lot more insight than other actresses could do. But I thought the film belonged to Christoph Waltz, who spends the majority of the film on his phone and blocking out what is really happening, simply because he just doesn't care, at all. He exuded a bit of evil, which is something I wasn't really expecting from him, considering he wasn't the one who let a hamster out on its own in the city.

I must say, I'm surprised at how little traction this gained in its initial release last year. I thought that with four great actors and a simple enough premise, this could have gone a lot further than it did. For a movie that only lasts around 70 minutes, it is a fun ride, even if it doesn't end as well as one could hope after all that verbal warfare. I'm actually worried about their children, though - how would they feel if they knew that this was how their parents tried to sort out their problems?

What I got:

20 comments:

  1. There is a film like this every year (or sometimes two or three or more) - a generally prestigious adaptation of sorts with name actors and directors, gets good to great notices but doesn't pick up awards traction (although CARNAGE did get two Golden Globe nods for the ladies, so it wasn't completely off radar.)

    The words ARE the highlight but I appreciate the subtle ways Polanski uses cinematic elements to liven the story - the almost antiseptic decor, the lighting, the brilliance of shots where all four are in the frame - it doesn't feel stage-y even if the premise (trapped in a room, minimal cast) is "of the stage".

    The best thing about this one, though, is ranking the cast and seeing others' rankings. For me it's Kate > Reily = Waltz > Foster. They're all good, though.

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    1. It did get a couple of Golden Globe nods, but not much more than that. Which was kinda sad.

      It didn't feel very stagey at all. The decor was fantastic.

      They're all good, and it is interesting to see everyone's rankings of them all. I don't know who I'd pick next outside of Waltz.

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  2. Stevee, I've always wondered... what film is that photo of Tommy Wiseau from?

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    1. The only film Tommy Wiseau has ever been in... The Room!

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    2. Thanks. I actually didn't even know who Tommy Wiseau is and just referred to the ratings page description here.

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    3. Ha, I'll have to put on the page that is from The Room. And now you'll have to watch The Room.

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  3. I saw a preview for this, and I've been wondering whether it was any good. It certainly has a terrific cast. Thanks for the magnificent review -- your reviews are always beautifully written and thought-provoking. I'm adding this movie to my "must see" list.

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    1. Definitely check it out. And thank you!

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  4. What I really liked about this movie is that the story and its motion was almost like it was on... a ferris wheel. Let me explain. It moves so naturally into who you hate and who you root for. At various points in the film, you like and hate different people. And to force you to go from liking to hating to liking to hating not just one but four characters throughout a film is pretty damn hard to do. And on top of that, how the film portrayed the arguments was so fluid and balanced. You would go from it being couple vs. couple to man vs man and woman vs woman. Then husband vs wife. Then men vs. women. Etc. I think every variation of "teams" was explored throughout.

    It's not a perfect movie by any means, but dammit if it's not masterfully crafted.

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    1. I love that explanation - it is definitely like that! The way it ticks over is fantastic, and how many times the tables are turned. It is masterfully crafted.

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  5. I agree that the performances are all great in this film. Though Waltz was excellent, I'm slightly partial to Reilly's performance.

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  6. I really enjoyed the film. It was so insane to watch and I had a good time watching it. I just love the chaos of the conversations and the performances. Kate Winslet throwing up is a win for me. Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly were fun to watch while seeing Jodie Foster starting to lose it is amazing. Then there was that ending. Roman is on a roll. I'm anxious for what he'll do next.

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    1. Roman is on a roll. I really adore his films!

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  7. I adore this movie. It's so funny and insane. Love love love Waltz! Love that Polanski made a movie about four people in one room in an age like this. A lot of fun.

    This was my first choice for the one act play thingy, but good lord we would have never pulled it off in so little time.

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    1. It was a lot of fun, and Polanski is the man!

      That would have been epic! You should definitely try it out in the future.

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  8. Awesome premise and love the actors but I kinda left wanting at the end. I guess the abrupt conclusion doesn't really help.

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    1. The conclusion was quite abrupt, unfortunately. I wish it could have gone for a little longer.

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  9. I really liked this film. It was so refreshing to see a tight film with no wasted words or scenes. My favourite was also Christoph Waltz - he was the only one who was himself the whole way through. The others tried to be polite, but he was just a jerk from the start. It was so funny to watch his reactions to the other characters showing their true selves. Great write-up!

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  10. I totally loved this film and I'm glad that you quite enjoyed it, too. The dialogue was very natural, hands down. The acting was excellent as well. It's such a simple movie, yet an outstanding one and underrated.

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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