Carnage (2011) – Film Review
by Nate Wisniewski
Roman Polanski’s comedy has all the makings of a success. Actors with talent and track record. A director with an interesting premise. But flying in the face of its promise, the end result is, somehow, bafflingly drab.
The film tells the story of two couples who, after a fight involving their kids, get together to smooth things over. Over the course of the next eighty minutes, they descend into increasingly childish behaviour, while the kids work it out on their own. It’s a good premise for a comedy, and what’s most disappointing with Carnage is that it could have been great.
Unfortunately the jokes are few and far between and, when they do come, they’re the dramatic equivalent of ‘dad jokes’. It’s Christmas cracker comedy. Obvious, cliché-ridden and uninspiring. And, perhaps unforgivably, there’s no turkey dinner to fall back on.
The execution of the plot isn’t much better. Carnage is a film that demands its cast to be in the same room. Yet it offers no reasons why the characters would choose to be so. At one point, the visiting couple leaves, arguing with their hosts as they head towards the lift. For some reason, the offer of a coffee entices them back in. Now they’ve had a coffee already. And they don’t like being there. Yet they take the offer for no other reason than the film ends if they don’t. There are many more examples of this one-dimensional plot structure. And it’s this lazy script writing that makes an eighty-minute film drag on.
Of course, a film like Carnage relies heavily on the performances of its actors. Luckily, it has some greats. Jodie Foster in particular, as a highly-strung lefty, gives an excellent turn. She captures the frustration of failure surprisingly well for someone so successful. John C. Reilly plays a good bumbling mediator and Christoph Waltz is charming as the hard working businessman. And then they all get drunk…
Perhaps it was real alcohol they were drinking. Perhaps it’s a bad idea to have all the characters drunk.
Either way, it doesn’t work. It’s funny to watch a drunk making a fool of himself in front of, or annoying, someone sober. But watching an entire cast acting drunk is like being the only sober person at a party. It’s not good.
As an exploration of how adult life affects us, the film has some merit. It explores the notion that the older we are the more ‘childish’ we can act. We lose our innocence and become more selfish. Unfortunately, despite its themes, its premise, its actors and its director, in the end it all comes down to its execution.
And as a film, Carnage is probably somewhere near the bottom of a long list of badly executed films. A frustrating watch. And not in the way Polanski would have hoped.