Even if this new Jodie Foster/Kate Winslet comedy/drama is a bit too theatrical for its own good, it still packs a devious punch....
Sony / 80 Minutes / 2011 / Rated R / Street Date: March 20, 2012
Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer wasn't just a return to form for the 78-year-old filmmaker; it was a zinging tale of intrigue and corporate powerplay that was exactly the kind of old-fashioned counterprogramming 2010 needed. After stunning with his 2002 masterwork The Pianist, Polanski used the opportunity of The Ghost Writer to dabble with the very alchemy of movie magic - he utilized all his talents to weave a web of luxurious cinematic beauty that plays every drop as well today as it did two years ago.
Carnage, last year's star-studded adaptation of Yasmina Reza's acclaimed play, doesn't land with the same sort of unavoidable slam of cine-genius, but it's without question a scintillating lark of a movie, one that is indeed too cheeky and formal for its own good, but is nevertheless a daring, biting assessment of the terrors of modern culture and what it has done to parents in the post-Y2K era. With Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly taking center stage in the picture, Carnage isn't short on scenery-chewing professionalism - and Roman being behind the camera definitely adds to the movie-star allure here - but Polanski doesn't just want to do a victory lap here: He has something to say.
What's fascinating, though, is that the director seems to take solace in showcasing characters who are ludicrous and almost despicable in their humorous complexity. Ostensibly, Carnage is about a kid who hits another kid with a stick at a playground, but aside from two very long shots with children in them, the entire film plays out at the home of Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) - parents of the attacked young 'un - who argue with Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) about what they should do as parents to correct or atone for what their offspring have done to one another. Savage words are said, wars are waged, scotch is poured, and all four of them go at it.
The film is surprisingly compact (it runs eighty minutes soaking wet), but even with its fleeting intensity, Carnage unfortunately becomes a tad redundant after a while. Polanski uses the platform of Reza's play to paint a fascinating portrait of the ineptitude and often damning inanity of the modern world (especially American parents), but Carnage plays more as a mesmerizing intellectual experiment than as a full-blown film. Polanski working at 75% is still leagues above the vast majority of other filmmakers presently on the scene, but even though Carnage is a brittle blast of fire-thrower dramatic fun, compared to The Ghost Writer, it feels unfortunately fleeting, as though the appearance of its final credits immediately makes the movie that precede them seem distant and passe.