Polanski's comedy of upper-middle class savagery is fast, funny and filthy
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play Gods of Carnage opens with a playground spat. Set over the opening credits, it’s this innocuous bust-up that drives the bitterly funny four-hander, as the parents of both children try to settle their differences over tea, cobbler, whisky and cigars in the Manhattan apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly). In the blue corner are Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz), whose 11 year-old boy, Zachary, hit their little cherub, Ethan, with a stick, resulting in two broken teeth. The rational discussions eventually give way to more instinctual arguments, as these four adults reveal they are not above their sons’ playground brawling.
Polanski makes little attempt to disguise the fact this comes from a play. And there is no doubt that the repeated attempts the Cowans make to leave the apartment, only to be dragged back in by some off-colour remark, feels rather contrived on screen (a convention that works far better in the theatre). But Carnage plays out at such a blistering pace, and boasts such exuberant performances from its quartet of well-cast stars, that it’s hard not to give in to it. Inglourious Basterds’ Oscar-winning Waltz once again has a field day enunciating his English dialogue (it truly is delicious to hear him speak) as he infuriates the others with his incessant Blackberry use.
There isn’t much more to Carnage, other than machine-gun bursts of comic savagery. Really, it’s a smart look at just how easy it is for the mask of civilisation to slip, and the hypocrisies that lurk underneath to rise up. The result? Fast, funny and filthy, it will have you in stitches.
General release from Fri 3 Feb.