Directed by Roman Polanski.
Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly.
Two sets of parents meet to discuss the matter of one child assaulting another. Things steadily go from bad to worse.
Everything about Carnage is quite simple, both the plusses and minuses. I know it’s early in the game to say this, but Carnage might be one of my favourites of the year. Now I know that’s also starting off on a high note, so I’ll be sure to bring it all back down by the end, but first the good aspects.
Taking a look at the film’s synopsis, you might get a bit bored. There isn’t really much more in terms of spoilers than can be discovered by watching the trailer or reading a review. The idea ‘four people talk about their children and by the way they don’t ever leave the home for the entire film, no really, not even to talk to the neighbours’ might sound boring but the time does, to form a cliché, just fly by. I’m sure the short eighty minute runtime helps, but there wasn’t ever a point of my mind wandering or wondering if the story was ever going to end.
The film’s simplicity and short time does have its downfalls. The characters aren’t ever shown under a bright spotlight in terms of their background, apart from one character’s mother calling. The lack of outside influence (the nearest anyone gets to leaving is pressing the button for the lift) and any other prominent characters makes the film feel like a theatre production. This is neither a positive or a negative; it just shows that the movie doesn’t completely abandon the feeling and ideas from the play Le Dieu du Carnage, which Yasmina Reza also wrote.
This other mark of simplicity would fall flat on its backside if the performances and script weren’t up to scratch. Nothing is ever used to wake the audience up, no cheap tricks used to keep the audience’s attention. And that’s what I enjoyed most about the film. The script isn’t laugh a minute (it defines the word ‘dramedy’), but what comedy there is is fantastic. Each character brings along their own worldview and baggage to create tension.
Each cast member gives a great performance. And, I think importantly, no one actor or character is overshadowed by another. You understand one point of view, even if an absolute bastard is bringing it across. Speaking of, contrary to what I just said, I think a little special praise has to go to John C. Reilly.
Despite never fulfilling my wish of saying the words ‘For your health!’ (Internet trawlers will be aware of this other fine, nuanced Reilly performance), the character journey of Michael Longstreet is probably the most fun. Reilly seems to revel in the part, enjoying starting off as a sheep that attempts to make everyone happy, eventually devolving into a booze swilling, cigar smoking git. But that’s just personal preference. Christoph Waltz looks, at times, like he could quite easily kill someone with his bare hands. Kate Winslet throws up everywhere. And Jodie Foster breaks down over art books and aftershave. There’s something for everyone!
Each character’s ups and downs just show that, as said by the characters in the film, that everybody lies. Not to be all Gregory House about it, but the journey of Michael is the prime example. As one thread is discovered, everything starts to unravel for the characters. Because of the lack of time with the characters, you don’t feel as emotionally involved. But this probably helps as you laugh with and at everyone.
The fact that there is only surface shown throughout the film, despite the revelations of each character, means that there isn’t a deep life lesson or moral to be taken from this movie. Which is a great thing. The film doesn’t try to teach you anything; it just shows these four people as they are. The obvious message is that parents are as bad, sometimes worse, than their kids. The final shot displays this easily enough without any of the characters expressing it outright. But as hinted earlier, it’s the typical message you could have gotten just by reading the synopsis or watching the trailer.
The enjoyment comes from seeing these four people break down. Nothing truly horrible happens. Nothing extreme happens. Carnage just shows people suffering from everyday problems. A spouse who spends a little too much time on the phone instead of raising their child. A spouse who tries to make everyone feel better and doesn’t actually stand up for anyone. Typical problems we may all come across. Carnage might actually be a great movie to watch, a simple story, before the leotard wearing super beings of the summer blockbusters come along and make everything explode.