not-so-quick notes on awesome indie films, part 1: Carnage.

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.

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About Sara

I like to talk about media, food, and gender.
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6 Responses to not-so-quick notes on awesome indie films, part 1: Carnage.

  1. Red Jenny says:

    fly to Switzerland and donate a knife to Polanski’s dick

    Yeah, that one.

  2. Craig says:

    One of the podcasts I listen to (Filmspotting?) suggested it would have been more interesting if Walz and Reilly had switched roles. Reilly’s more interesting when he’s playing shlub-as-alpha-male-striver (like in Cedar Rapids) than when he’s playing just a straight up shlub. Of course, he’s just flat-out miscast in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    • Sara says:

      Possible, but I thought Reilly was quite good. My problem was with Waltz. I don’t know if my problem is that he’ll always be Landa to me, but I have trouble reading any sincerity off him.

      Kevin is on my list but I’m kind of scared to see it. I think it might break me.

      • Craig says:

        It is relentlessly, uncompromisingly bleak. One of the central conceits of the book (which is an interesting read, but not a great book by any stretch) is that the story is being told entirely from the mother’s perspective, so that any memories/insights she expresses about Kevin are being given to you by a potentially unreliable narrator, someone who sees Kevin with whatever the opposite of the rosy glow of nostalgia is. The movie does not get that across at all, so you watch this Demon Seed grow up and wonder why no one ever does anything about what is obviously a complete sociopath from day one.

    • Sara says:

      The book sounds right up my alley, and it’s been on my Amazon wish list since I heard about the film. I appreciate your thoughts on the film, though they scare me a little. “Uncompromisingly bleak” is both attractive and repulsive to me. Do you recommend the film? Based on what you know of my taste do you think I’d appreciate it?

      • Craig says:

        Hmmm….how about a qualified yes? I don’t think it’s a great movie or even necessarily a good movie but there is enough in it to think about and dissect that it’s worth seeing, especially if you haven’t read the book. Swinton’s fantastic. Reilly’s miscast but whatever. The kid who plays Kevin is completely hateable which is right and proper. And Lynne Ramsay is an interesting filmmaker even if I would ultimately judge this film as more of a failure than a success. It splits the difference between straight up horror and honest family drama, and the fact that it can’t pick one or the other leaves it in this sort of limbo state. I think the film works better if you go in pretending you’re watching The Omen instead of, I don’t know, Elephant.

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