Roman Polanski's adaptation of the hit French play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza is one of the most unassuming treats of the award season for me. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C Reilly and (blog favourite) Christoph Waltz the film is almost an exercise in what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, when two pairs of parents come together to sort out a little spat between the couples' children.
Set essentially on the single set of a New York apartment (shot originally in Paris due to Mr Polanski's ongoing legal predicament with the U.S.A), the film starts off slowly with the tension simmering over and the adults behaving reasonably responsible. With a few passive jibes here and a few obnoxious actions there and one of the most surprising moments of projectile vomiting seen in a film for as long as I can remember, it just explodes into this hilarious piece of train-wreck cinema. At the centre of the chaos comes four fine performances from the aforementioned leads.
With very little separating the four vile personalities on show, Jodie Foster perhaps just nips ahead the rest with a performance kind of reminiscent of a psychotic auntie on Boxing Day. You know the type; culturally pretentious, self righteous, emotionally suppressed, closet alcoholic. It was slightly reminiscent of Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh's similarly poised feature, Another Year. You'll watch it and keep thinking the entire time of that one person you know who is exactly like that, or if you're better than most (or at least me) you'll realise by the film's closing moments you are that person. I've never really thought of Foster as an acting talent who could make me genuinely laugh, but to her credit she excels herself here.
Similarly so was Kate Winslet in her first notable modern role for as long as I can remember - not that I actually watch many films featuring Winslet these days, more my problem than hers I assure you - as Christoph Waltz's tightly strung, fashion concious wife. As the whiskey is consumed and the madness descends, so does Winslet into a loud, often offensive, grotesque bully of a woman. The best part being; it's such fun to watch.
John C Reilly and Christoph Waltz were on fine form in their usual archetypal roles. As Foster's husband Reilly channels this calm, passive persona, which saw him give a creditable straight performance in 2011's outstanding We Need To Talk About Kevin, one moment then turning into this loud mouth, uncouth, red neck asshole the next. While Waltz was his usual slimy self as Winslet's morally grey, neglectful, husband. The way he occasionally listens in on the discussion then obnoxiously answers his cell phone loud and proud every five minutes, is the kind of idiosyncratic quirks absent of latter day Woody Allen films.
For people who want more of a 'film' from their stage adaptations than simply a story dominated by dialogue and confined to a singular set then you'll probably not be that moved by Carnage's narrative. Having not seen the stage show itself, I've been told prior to seeing the film the ending of Polanski's version has been altered to the original. How I'm not really sure, but I'd be intrigued to find out someday.
Roman Polanski's intimidate comedy hits a lot of pitch perfect notes with four fabulous performances from Foster, Winslet, Reilly and Waltz. It might not be the most cutting edge piece of cinema you'll see this year or the next, and the ending isn't much of an ending but more a sobering retrospective, but this relentless car crash of opposing forces is certainly worth your time. Complete and utter carnage.
Carnage is in selected cinemas from February 3rd 2012. Belfast audiences can see it from Queen's Film Theatre then also.