With obvious comparisons to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (though with more sobriety amongst the characters), this play turned movie, featuring just four characters and set inside one Brooklyn apartment, is a concise, acerbic, beast of a movie. Starring Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly as a couple whose son is beaten up by another boy, and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz as the parents of the alleged offender, director Roman Polanski gives his actors just enough room (literally and figuratively) to do their interweaving diatribes of ferocity toward one another, but not enough room to be able to escape the vitriolic barbs of their close-quartered enemies. Sharply written and sharply acted, especially by Winslet and Waltz, Carnage, based on the play Le Dieu du carnage by Yasmina Reza, is a verbally caustic, attack-ready take on the ideas of societal civility and just how far one will go to either keep the facade up or viciously tear it down - and each character has his or her turn at both sides of the gun
At a very brisk 79 minutes (shot in real time), Polanski never lingers on anything for too long, his subtly constantly moving camera doing physically what his characters do emotionally, but as the niceties of the early scenes devolve into the vicious realities of each character's own psyches (Waltz is the one character that never really tries to hold back his barbarism) the film becomes more and more harrowing and the viewer more and more apprehensive about what will come next, or more aptly, who will come apart next. The characters begin to unravel - Winslet's indifference turning to open anger, Reilly's affable nature taken over by his inability to have control, Foster's faux liberalism taken to the breaking point of absurdity, Waltz's pomposity beaten down by the loss of his cell phone life line (we see his arrogance curled up on the floor like a reprimanded child) - and with each successive scene they fall apart more and more. With each passing moment they act worse and worse toward each other - far more childish than either of their children had acted in the first place.
Granted, the film never goes much deeper than a few figurative skin abrasions, and the barbed verbal attacks are nothing when compared to the monstrous goings-on in the aforementioned Virginia Woolf (the added tension of Taylor and Burton's real life relationship added to that as well) but nonetheless, Polanski gets some great, if not exactly powerful (all four have been harder hitting in other roles) performances out of his claustrophobic quartet, and the acid-tongued breaking down of civility is great fun to watch. Perhaps this is just this critic's own rather warped sense of societal rules. One could even say it is a giddy treat to see these four supposedly civilized people go from decorum to destruction in less than 79 minutes. I just wished there had been more - if not more time, at least more viciousness. Then again, perhaps that is just me. But really, it is quite fun to watch.