Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly
Watch Carnage online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Amazon Video / Google Play
“Why are we still in this house?” cries Kate Winslet after 80 minutes. She plays Nancy, wife of Alan Cowan (Waltz). Their son assaulted another boy with a stick at school. And so they go round to talk things through with his parents, Penelope (Foster) and Michael Longstreet (Reilly). Things start off amicably. Smiles. Coffee. Apple and pear cobbler. Half an hour later, they’ve descended into total carnage.
“Our son didn’t disfigure your son!” “This is the unhappiest day of my life.” “Their marriage is on the rocks – we don’t need to compete.” It’s tempting to spend an entire review just quoting Yasmina Reza’s script (based, inevitably, on her own award-winning stage play). Each line is impeccably delivered by the ensemble, spat into each other’s faces with passion – like Joey and Gary Oldman in Friends, but with oodles more hatred.
From Jodie Foster’s thin-lipped smile to John C. Reilly talking about toilet flushing mechanisms, the tension tics into the room through the tiniest gestures. Christoph Waltz makes the simple act of answering a phone an act of aggression; even when silent, his face is brazenly hostile.
The insults bounce off the apartment walls with a caustic hilarity, but what Roman Polanski achieves so perfectly is that gradual slide, as niceties give way to barbaric honesty. Polanski plays up the stage of the single location, turning the day-glo decor into a claustrophobic prison. His camera seems to trap the characters in the flat, offering no escape – even though they repeatedly try.
“I believe in the god of carnage who has ruled the world uninterruptedly since the dawn of time,” snarls Waltz. An existential study of class? Social amorality? Sexual stereotypes? You could read all of them into Reza’s callous comedy of manners and modern parenting. But the joy comes from the shifts between them, the unsympathetic exchange of inequality. “My wife dressed me up as a liberal!” yells Reilly, revealing his true colours. It’s political, but with a small p. And like Harold Pinter in his prime, watching the passing of the horseshoe of power has never been more uncomfortable. Or, frankly, more hilarious.
“Why are we still in this house?” demands Winslet. None of them know. Which is exactly why you don’t want them to leave.
Carnage is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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