Film review | Carnage – It isn’t pretty when the mask of politeness slips

Carnage - Kate Winslet's Nancy

Human nature red-in-tooth-and-claw is stripped bare in Carnage, Roman Polanski’s darkly comic screen adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s hit stage play God of Carnage, a wickedly satirical four-hander in which two ostensibly well-mannered middle-class couples meet on polite terms to patch up a playground scuffle between their respective sons and end up tearing lumps out of one another.

Bourgeois manners prove to be a very thin veneer indeed when New York husband and wife Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) go to the home of aggrieved parents Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) to settle the issue. At first, everyone is affable and urbane. But tensions soon emerge between and within the couples. Cynical lawyer Alan reveals his disdain by conducting business on his mobile phone (the defence of a scandal-hit drugs company). Plumbing-supplies salesman Michael becomes increasingly chippy and boorish. And uptight Kate vomits over a priceless art catalogue, at which point the ostentatiously socially concerned Penelope reveals her true scale of values.

It’s ghastly but utterly riveting. Reza is merciless in her dissection of social hypocrisy, skewering her characters with a rapier wit, and she finds a ruthlessly efficient accomplice in Polanski, who directs his heavy-hitting cast with consummate skill. And save for a brief, distant glimpse of the kids’ initial quarrel, he makes no effort to open out the play, confining us to the hosts’ Brooklyn apartment as the encounter unfolds in real time. Which only makes us squirm the more.

On general release from Friday 3rd February 2012.

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