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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Carnage (review)

Carnage Jodie Foster John C Reilly Christoph Waltz Kate Winslet

Sometimes it’s easy to separate the artist from his art. I had no problem doing that with Roman Polanski’s last film, The Ghost Writer, because it touched not one iota on the offscreen furor around him, related to his admitted rape of a 13-year-old girl and subsequent flight from justice. But his latest, Carnage, makes it much harder. Oh, it doesn’t appear at first, and not even through much of the film’s brisk 79-minute runtime, that there’s any connection whatsoever to Polanski’s circumstances. In the wake of a playground fight that left one of their preteen sons slightly injured, two well-off Brooklyn couples meet to discuss, in civilized terms and in the spirit of community, how the aggressor can make amends to the injured. There’s Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster: The Brave One), a firm adherent of liberal social justice who instigated the get-together, and her husband, Michael (John C. Reilly: Cyrus), a self-made plumbing-supply distributor; and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz: The Three Musketeers), a medical attorney who can barely put his phone down to participate in the conversation, and his wife, Nancy (Kate Winslet: Contagion), a woman of undeclared profession and nervous nature. The slightly forced veneer of politeness with which the two couples’ meeting begins soon degenerates into their own sort of childish playground squabbling, as everyone’s foibles get poked and tested and nearly all semblance of civilization and community is stripped away. The performances are fantastic; the banter is cruelly witty; I was on the edge of my seat for 79 minutes wondering just where the hell the film could take these four vivid, captivating, and almost totally dreadful people. Don’t worry: I’m not going to reveal that. What leaves me deeply uncomfortable is the purely cinematic postscript Polanski tacks on to Yasmina Reza’s play Gods of Carnage, from which this is adapted. It suggests that any moral outrage that erupts over a wrongdoing is wasted energy and anger, and no more than a pointless kerfuffle, because everybody ends up happy in the end and friends again, all hurts forgiven and forgotten by all parties involved, and in fact, no one was actually even really hurt anyway. It’s hard for me to see this as anything other than Polanski commenting on criticisms of his own crimes, scolding those bothered by his past deeds to just chill out and calm down. Even more repugnant is the suggestion that those seeking justice are deluded about the true nature of the world and humanity. It leaves a nasty aftertaste.


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watch at home

Carnage (2011)
US/Can release: Dec 16 2011
UK/Ire release: Feb 3 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated HTCTH: hits too close to home for comfort
MPAA: rated R for language
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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