Movie Review: Carnage

Mike Finkelstein had an hour long conversation with a friend.  He wondered how something as simple as a conversation would look dramatized and thrown up on a screen.  To answer his question, he went to the movies.  Here is his review of “Carnage”.

PLOT: Two sets of parents (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, Christophe Waltz and Kate Winslet) meet to discuss a schoolyard fight between their two sons.  What starts off as a cordial, civilized visit slowly disintegrates into a shouting match worthy of that same playground.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  CARNAGE is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to for a while.  I was a big fan of “God of Carnage” when it was on Broadway, and couldn’t wait to see how a director like Roman Polanski and four great actors translated it for the screen.

The thing about “God of Carnage” and CARNAGE is that while it’s almost exactly the same script, they are two completely separate entities.  The feel of the film and the play are so completely diverse, you could almost swear you’re watching a different story.  And for the movie, it really doesn’t work very well…

On the stage, “God of Carnage” is a great time.  Characters and tensions build on themselves like a mountain to the point that the audience is in hysterics.  In the movie, however, that building seems to dissipate, and instead, the tension is more of a flowing river…it goes slightly up and slightly down, it gets a bit rough and then smooth, but nothing too spectacular ever really takes place.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…on a stage, everything is exaggerated and on a film screen, life should play more like reality, but this time, reality led us to watch a conversation that is nothing more than just that: a really long 80-minute conversation that keeps us thinking “Why couldn’t they just have gotten into the elevator instead of accepting that extra piece of cobbler?”

That is not to say that there weren’t a few good notes for CARNAGE.  All four actors are very capable and bring certain nuances to their roles.  Jodie Foster’s veins look like they’re about to pop, Kate Winslet plays drunk beautifully (while the projectile vomit that’s been getting so much press isn’t exactly ‘projectile’, it’s still pretty funny), John C. Reilly’s aloof sheep of a man took me back to his role in CHICAGO, and Christoph Waltz can play menacing and cold in his sleep.  Also, the opening scene when we see the ‘fight’ between the two boys was very cute as our only look to the world outside the apartment.

But sadly, with all that, the power just wasn’t there.  I heard a bunch of lines, I felt many moments of frustration, and I saw a woman vomit all over a stranger’s home, but when the end of the film came, the punch line that had everyone applauding in the Broadway theater fell flat.  To be completely honest, I didn’t even realize it was coming up!  And when something you know could be a golden moment is just DOA like that, you know something went wrong.

Roman Polanski is no doubt one of the best directors today.  If anyone could make a movie based on “God of Carnage” work on the big screen, it’s him.  But when you try to take the exaggeration of a play and turn it into a realistic film focusing on a very long real-time conversation…you need to add SOME spice somewhere.  Polanski didn’t do that, and while most of the parts were there, all we got was a slow-flowing river when we should have had a mountain.

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) JODIE FOSTER’S VEINS: Wow, Foster’s veins were popping out of her head like she was Bane in BATMAN AND ROBIN.  I kept thinking they were going to pop, and she was going to die from an aneurysm.  Pretty impressive…

2) KATE WINSELT’S DRUNKENNESS: Kate Winslet started out as the most put together of the four, and slowly turned into the most out of control.  She played drunk beautifully, especially with one speech that could have easily sounded fake.

3) CHRISTOPH WALTZ’S SUBTLENESS: Waltz’s subtlety was a complete 180 from how Jeff Daniels played Alan on stage.  He brought a cold, bitter feeling to the role that almost made him seem as dangerous as Hans Landa (but, you know, without the Nazi feelings…)

4) JOHN C. REILLY’S ALOOFNESS: Watching Reilly here reminded me of Amos Hart in CHICAGO.  The guy was a gentle giant who exploded at the end.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) MONOTONE: The film had its peaks and valleys, but overall, it seemed to stay on the same plain the entire time.  Yes, I know we were watching a conversation in real time, but I wished it didn’t feel…so much like a damn conversation.

2) DOESN’T PACK A PUNCH: Where the play ended on a high note, the movie ends on a whimper.  Same moment, same lines…there was just no specifically high climax to let that moment pay off.  Very disappointing.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) The film was chosen to be the opening night feature at The New York Film Festival in September, 2011.

2) Shot in Paris, since Roman Polanski can’t step foot in the United States.

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