Friday, August 24, 2012
War of the Words.
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: