In Roman Polanski’s Carnage, two unhappily married couples meet to discuss a recent scuffle that their sons were in, a minor altercation that left one child with broken teeth and another with shattered pride. Soon enough, their conversation deviates from the problem at hand, opening itself up to a litany of insults regarding class, stature, appearance, you name it.
The film, which should be titled something along the lines of A Short Film About Bitching, is just that: 79 minutes of incessant bitching and moaning. The characters in the film whine about themselves, one another, their children, whatever. And here is where Polanski and co-screenwriter Yasmina Reza (adapting her own play) achieve minor greatness: they drafted a film about and featuring annoying characters, but the movie itself manages to be anything but.
Don’t get me wrong, even though it’s short, the argument(s) that Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) have with Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz), do not stay fully enthralling throughout. But as an exercise in fluid, evolving screenwriting, it’s impossible to not call Carnage a success.
It’s Nancy and Alan’s son, Zachary, that hauled off and hit Penelope and Michael’s son, Ethan, in the face with a stick. At first, it’s refreshing to watch the two couples wallow in pretense. Nancy and Alan are hopelessly apologetic for their son’s behavior (but not really), while Penelope and Michael continually remind them that it’s all okay (which it isn’t). When the shifts come, they occur subtly and with zero overplaying.
Carnage takes place in New York but was shot in Paris for a reported $25 million, the majority of which I assume was used to fulfill the stars’ salary demands. There’s not much more to the movie than a solid script and steady acting (although Alexandre Desplat’s music helps move things along), it carries itself well, right up until its final scene.
While I’ve already dubbed 2011 The Year of the Great Performance in the Mediocre Film, feel free to also classify it as The Year of the Non Ending. Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rampart, Carnage (and many more), are all good movies that have no clue how to resolve their story. The validation of these films’ denouements are obviously up for debate, but the final scene of Carnage is so lazy, it had me wondering if the experience was even worth it. B-