There have been several exceptional dramas confined to one location in the past with such great examples like Twelve Angry Men and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. Both films are driven by character rather than plot and the drama is intensified by the incarceration of the characters in one situation. However films like 44 Inch Chest have shown that basing a movie on a play doesn't necessarily mean it will translate well. Carnage is in the same vein as the predecessors, except it slots into the comedy genre rather than drama and is set entirely in an apartment..
Based on a play entitled The God of Carnage the film is set in New York and begins with two young boys in the park. One picks up a stick and hits the other in the face. Following the incident, the parents of the two boys decide that they must meet and discuss the matter and the best resolution to move forward. These couples consist of the idealist Jodie Foster and the short tempered John C Reilly. We also have the selfish Christoph Waltz and the polite but vindictive Kate Winslet. The tension between the two couples builds until they are truly at odds with each other and the mayhem begins.
The film has an intriguing and well-paced opening 20 minutes as the characters' layers are slowly removed and the truth behind their situations is revealed. Furthermore the characters change their alliances as the topics of discussion progress from their sons to their marriages or even the way of Western culture. The camera work is creative considering the confinements of the apartment and Polanski manages to keep each shot lively even in the tame environment. The jokes are economical, never hilarious but more reserved and thoughtful humour.
The cast do give a very good performance with all four actors delivering solid day at the office but even with that the film is lacking the comedy value that Polanski is reaching for. The situation still feels forced, with the visiting couple having ample opportunities to escape the apartment and the minimal alcohol having a massive effect too quickly. Without a natural setting the humour felt artificial at times, with the middle act having a lull in quality. However for the final 15 minutes the much anticipated arguments begin to kick off but just before the anger reaches it's climax the film concludes, leaving this viewer frustrated.
So the film does lack excitement and an abrupt ending but has some strong merits in the performances. The thought of such a simple and natural act in the park evoking such madness and confusion from so called 'adults' is an amusing concept but some viewers won't have the attention span to stick with this one. A decent attempt from Polanski but not a stellar one.
EXTRAS ★★½ Text Interviews with cast members Foster (10:52), Waltz (4:04), Winslet (8:38), and Reilly (9:47); plus the theatrical trailer.