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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Carnage | Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz | Review

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Carnage | Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz | Review

If the title brings bloody battle and dead bodies to mind it’s entirely intentional.  The weapons here are not swords but tongues, just as razor sharp and ready to pierce.

Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C, Reilly) are the parents of Ethan (Eliot Berger) injured by a blow to the mouth with a stick by Zachary (Elvis Polanski).  Zachary’s parents, Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) are both at the Longstreet apartment as the film opens.  Penelope tries to act as the politically correct moderator of the meeting.  The Cowans are awash in discomfort for different reasons.

Nancy is mortified at her son’s behavior; Alan is peeved at the interruption in his work day.  Penelope appears reasonable but has a hard time keeping her self-righteous, judgmental and shrill disposition in check.  Michael is a big, oafish, conciliatory guy who just wants everyone to be mellow.

Everything is uncomfortably polite at first.  There’s irrelevant chitchat about homemade cobbler before the conversation delves into professions, (Alan is an attorney: Michael manages a hardware store) interests (Penelope fancies herself an art enthusiast) and recent activities (Michael thinks he’s clever for releasing his daughter’s hamster into the street; Nancy is horrified).

Most of the action takes place in one room of the Longstreet’s apartment –the bathroom is an exception after a particularly messy scene, as well as a hallway leading to an elevator where the Cowans almost make it out (twice) before things really heat up.

Unhappy lives bubble up to the surface of the conversation, leaving the boys’ confrontation behind and touching on many other bones to pick, issues that simmered long before the two couples even met. General dissatisfaction or outright intolerance breaks through the polite veneer as accusations begin to leak out and then fly across the room, like Nancy’s projectile vomit.  Could the cobbler be to blame?

None of the couples stay on point in the disagreement, straying into personal varieties of marital discord that evolve into issues like workaholic tendencies, alcoholism, classism, sexism, and marginalization.

The quartet takes turns squaring off with differing partners and allies at times.
Then a bottle of 20-year-old scotch enters the picture and loosens tongues but not firmly held beliefs.

The mess gets even messier.  A cell phone becomes a hated symbol of disinterest and constant interruption.  So much for urbane civility.

Jodie Foster gives a brittle, fighting-to stay-in-control performance as Penelope, hissing through her teeth for much of the running time.  John C. Reilly plays himself, a big, goofy guy who just wants to be friends and chafing under his wife’s straitjacket rules.  Kate Winslet’s Nancy tries to be patient and reasonable when she’s not barfing, and Christoph Waltz is so effective as the obnoxious, arrogant attorney that it’s easy to hate Alan and admire the actor who brings him so caustically to life.

The cell phone should share a co-star credit for all of the trouble it inspires.

Director Roman Polanksi (Chinatown, Tess, Rosemary’s Baby) helms a film against type, almost whimsical in its execution despite dark underpinnings.  The never-extradited-but-wanted-by–authorities-in-America Polanski shot the interiors in Paris, but makes it look all so New York, largely with the help of his actors.  The cast makes it easy for him with three Oscar winners and one nominee (Reilly).

Marketed as a bully film, it’s really an incident film and that incident serves as the flashpoint for deep ceded misery of the players.  Wisely, Polanski keeps the boys (one of whom is his son, Elvis) faraway in an outdoors long shot.  While allegedly a film about them, it’s really about their parents, the principals in two turbulent marriages, caged indoors like animals that begin chewing their paws to escape.

One can only laugh at the carnage – especially in view of the ironic closing shot, the last one filmed before Polanski yelled “Cut”!  There’s a bloody good point to that, indeed.

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