What happens when you get four people, all genetically pre-dispositioned to arguments and put them in a room to discuss the juvenile pugilism of their 11 year old kids? The answers; carnage!
Reworking a play can be difficult especially a production set essentially in one room for the duration of the piece. 8 Women (François Ozon 2002) or 44 Inch Chest (Malcolm Venville 2009) do this to varying degrees of success. One of the first things Polanski did correctly was engage with Yasmina Reza, the French playwright responsible for the original stage version “God of Carnage”. The French influence is evident, not least of all in the visiting Cowans. One can almost detect a hint of Luis Buñuel.
The casting works well most of the time. On one side we have the Longstreets, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John Reilly) the forcibly liberal (because it is the right thing to do) who are hosting Nancy and Alan Cowan to discuss their sons’ behaviour. Penelope is currently writing a book on Darfur, she works in a bookstore as he sells domestic hardware. The book is being driven her sense of collective responsibility. Michael is more easy going and we suspect the victim of his wife’s borderline OCD (shown through the issues of the cobbler being in the fridge and the Coke not), her political correctness and passive-aggressive tendencies. Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) is the high-flying investment broker who, with her husband, Alan (Christoph Waltz) are looking to go through the motions as painlessly as possible. Alan has not doubts about his son’s guilt and is will to accept it, get him to apologise and move on, Penelope questions how willing to apologise his son is and if there is value in the apology, the simple act is totally blown out of proportion by Nancy’s over analysis of the situation.
As both couples strive to find an acceptable solution it quickly becomes obvious that Penelope is striving for what she believes the solution should be in her politically correct world where she has obviously read 10 or 20 self-help books too many. Nancy Cowan does not want to be there, but feels she has to be to do the right thing. Her husband Alan was essentially forced along and to the annoyance of everybody continuously works on his Blackberry trying to stave off a class action law suit for a drug which, as it happens, Michael’s mother is also using, this little sub-plot ads to the overall entertainment.
Both husbands are there out of a sense of duty. Michael Longstreet is a warts-and-all kind of guy, proud of his business selling household hardware and comfortable with his middle-class life style and quite happily extols the virtues of toilet flushing mechanisms and the different designs available.
The peace negotiations descend in to near farce a couple of times as both parties “fight” (often between the respective couples) to keep things civilised, with mixed success. As the movie progresses the women become more assertive/aggressive and occasionally unite in the cause of their gender, leaving the men to rely on each other for mutual support. This is best demonstrated in the battles over the 18 year old Scotch and Michael’s cigars. The tulips and Blackberry also fall victim to the negotiations and provide suitable comic relief, as well as tummy upset (possibly caused by the cobbler). The collection of coffee-table art books (treated almost as if they were the original artworks themselves) show themselves to be a great prop for a number of gag lines around the education of the children, the study of art and indeed the protection/recovery of the books themselves after a particular incident (which you will have to view for yourselves).
I’m trying not to give too much away. The script is sharp and well suited to the tight setting. The timing and aim of the dialogue is flawless. The direction mostly works while the hall-way scenes work to varying degrees.
There are supposed to be two children living there also (9 and 11 if memory works) and apart form an educational game and the piano in the living room there is no other clue to their existence. This could be a result of the OCD or simply oversight by the props department.
Polanski will obviously not get any recognition for this, but his cast should not be punished for the sins-of-the-father. The ensemble works well together and deserves the recognition that comes to any one of them.
Rating: 7/10, it is relatively short and moves quickly, worth watching.