In Brooklyn Bridge Park, eleven year old Zachary Cowan strikes his eleven year old classmate Ethan Longstreet across the face with a stick after an argument. Among the more serious of Ethan's injuries is a permanently missing tooth and the possibility of a second tooth also being lost. Their respective parents learn of the altercation through Ethan's parents questioning him about his injuries. The Longstreet parents invite the Cowan parents to their Brooklyn apartment to deal with the incident in a civilized manner. They are: Penelope Longstreet, whose idea it was to invite the Cowans, she whose priorities in life include human rights and justice; Michael Longstreet, who tries to be as accommodating as possible to retain civility in any situation; Nancy Cowan, a nervous and emotionally stressed woman; and Alan Cowan, who is married more to his work as evidenced by the attachment he has to his cell phone and taking work calls at the most inopportune times. Although the meeting starts ... Written by
Roman Polanski, along with other audacious directors such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, was part of the "new school" which changed the face of commercial cinema during the '70s, leaving behind the retrograde moralist and edifying schemes the industry had been dragging from the '50s, when the famous Hays Code severely censored the "indecency" in cinema. However, at the difference of Coppola and Scorsese, Polanski seems to have improved with the age (leaving aside the misstep he had with Oliver Twist), because even though some of his classic films keep undeniably being very interesting (The Tenant, The Fearless Vampire Killers), I think his modern films offer a wider spectrum of artistic and narrative attributes. In other words, I think Polanski is living his best creative period, as it has been proved by the films The Ninth Gate, The Pianist and The Ghost Writer. That's the reason why I was very interested in watching Carnage, his most recent film; however, even though it ended up being an interesting experience, I didn't find it very memorable, and it's definitely very far from being among Polanski's best films.
Even if it hadn't been mentioned during the initial credits, the fact that Carnage is based on a play would have been obvious. With the exception of the prologue and the epilogue, the whole film is developed in only one location, and it basically relies on the dialogs and the performances. On some way, Carnage is a filmed play, and as a consequence, it's difficult to appreciate Polanski's hand; but anyway...even without his characteristic atmosphere and visual style, the film is entertaining despite feeling a bit affected and pretentious. In this kind of minimalistic stories, we frequently see the structural simplicity compensated by over the top drama, because instead of looking for a visual deployment, the focus is on the evolution (or "de-evolution") of the characters, something which was exactly the point of Carnage. The result in here is competent, even though I occasionally found it superficial and not very credible. The conflict between the two couples begins on a realistic way, but its staggering is too quick and obviously designed to make a contrast between their moral values. And when the ending came, I felt the fact that too many things were left up in the air.
However, I can't deny that the performances from Carnage are magnificent. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are absolutely perfect as the liberal and progressive middle-aged couple, so "politically correct" that they run the risk of becoming caricatures. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are brilliant as a wealthy, but accessible and casual couple.
Even though it didn't leave me completely satisfied, I can bring a moderate recommendation to Carnage as a competent film with excellent performances and an interesting story.
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