- Jodie Foster as Penelope Longstreet
- Kate Winslet as Nancy Cowen
- Christoph Waltz as Alan Cowen
- John C. Reilly as Michael Longstreet
Based on the acclaimed play, Carnage is a darkly funny examination of a meeting between two middle class couples to smooth over a skirmish between their sons that turns into something quite different. As directed under Roman Polanski’s acute eye for body language and the power of words, Carnage is sharp, funny and dramatic viewing.
Penelope and Michael Longstreet invite Nancy and Alan Cowen over to their high-rise New York condo to discuss an altercation between their children. The Cowen’s son struck the Longstreet’s boy with a stick after an altercation, which resulted in a couple of broken teeth and a swollen face. Initially the meeting between the couples is cordial, but it soon begins to take on another form. As the couples begin to take sides on the issue of their kids, verbal assaults are thrown about and the mask of civility melts away into an extended slanging match on the differing viewpoints of class, ideals and morals emerges from this supposedly diplomatic situation. In the end, the meeting is nothing to do with the two boys, but the regression of their parents into anarchy at being in such a claustrophobic setting. Prepare for acerbic one liners, verbal jousting and fine performances from the four members of the cast in Polanski’s comedic chamber drama of niceties being dispensed with and the true self burrowing its way to the top in an argument.
The first thing to notice in Polanski’s movie is the limited but highly effective setting of the Longstreet’s condo. Polanski examines the humorous side to these middle class character’s insular surrounding with a certain amount of tension, which he is more than adept because of his work in Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. The condo seems to take on a life of its own and becomes almost prison like as we watch the Cowen’s attempt to leave but being halted at every opportunity. Polanski who also co-wrote the screenplay succeeds in bringing the acerbic wit to the screen with comedic and equally dramatic moments popularising this supposedly civil meeting between mature adults that descends into shouting and screaming. Roman Polanski manages to direct at a steady pace as the mask of diplomacy begins to slip and it really is amazing how he keeps us interested with such a short running time.
The biggest asset belonging to Carnage is the four main actors involved who all put in excellent work. Jodie Foster flat-out nails the role of Penelope Longstreet, a prissy woman obsessed with manners whilst being something of a snob. Her highly strung tendencies as a character really add to the comedic side of the film. Kate Winslet lets loose with her role as Nancy, the demure trophy wife whose escalating frustrations combined with too much booze lead her to extreme situations. Christoph Waltz gets some of the best lines as the ruthlessly suave and chauvinistic Alan, a lawyer constantly attached to his phone more than his wife’s pleas to leave. It is Alan who is the only character to see the absurdity of the meeting and the fact that no resolution will come of it. John C. Reilly adds humour but an underlying rage as Michael, who at first tries to calm the situation but later becomes a key instigator in stoking the flames of the already heated situations.
Making effective use of the limited setting, waspish dialogue and four great performances, Polanski’s Carnage in short is a barbed, dramatic and darkly funny account of civilised people descending into chaos.