Being the good little fuckin’ feminist lefty I am, I feel the need to justify paying money to see Carnage, Roman Polanski’s latest. Unfortunately, my justification is weak: that night, due to a weird combination of a cinematically weak December and bizarrely scheduled movies, it was basically the only game in town. And, shit, I still haven’t donated $26 to RAINN to offset our ticket purchases. (My partner suggested that instead we fly to Switzerland and donate a knife to Polanski’s dick, but I think those aspirations might be a little high.)
Anyway. Carnage. I found the plot compelling (two sets of Brooklyn-Heights-bougie parents get together to discuss a playground fight between their sons, ultimately revealing their own inner monsters) and the cast (John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) is undeniable. It’s certainly an effective film – after 45 minutes of time spent with these people, I wanted to jump out a window just to get away from them. (And I was underground. Not a lot of windows underground!) But ultimately, it falls kind of flat for a number of reasons.
For one, Carnage was originally a play, and the stage-to-screen adaptation is pretty wooden with various elements that sit comfortably on a stage feeling wildly out of place and forced on-screen. Repetitious dialogue was the one that was really killing me. Reilly’s character keeps referencing his wife’s (Foster) homemade cobbler in a way that I know wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest in a play, but in this film made me want to punch him in the nose. We expect a more precise naturalism on film than we do on stage, I guess. I’m sure there are essays about this. Either way, the adaptation should have been more graceful.
For another, Winslet and Reilly palpably out-act Waltz and Foster, whose performances I found distracting. Of course, neither Waltz nor Foster is bad. Foster just overacts – one review I read said she lets the tendons in her neck do much of the work in the second half of the film, which, yep – and Waltz … I don’t even know, man, maybe I’ve seen Inglorious Basterds too many times, but I don’t really know how to deal with him as anything other than Colonel Landa. He feels simultaneously way too actor-y and not actor-y enough. The Slate review put it better than I could: “Foster and Waltz aren’t quite in the same league as their castmates: her performance is a shade too brittle, his too unctuous (brittleness and unctuosity being those actors’ respective specialties).”
Finally in terms of my complaints, the whole point felt overdone and under-important. Humans are beasts? That’s your point? It felt like someone had taken Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and No Exit, shaken well, and filtered out all the hard-hitting bits. That said, the film is pretty funny at times, and Winslet delivers a really fantastic performance. (Oscar voters, you are assholes without taste who have robbed every good performance this year.) Maybe Netflix it? Or don’t, I honestly don’t care. You’re not missing much.