We as the audience tend to glaze over the location of a film unless it’s quintessentially important to it. We’ll just passively accept that a film is stereotypically set in New York and move on with our viewing. You may wonder why I’m ranting on about this and it’s for one reason; Carnage is set in one room. One room and that is all, and with this simple technique Polanski controls all our reactions like a puppet, almost with a sense of splendid malicious glee.
Carnage is about 2 couples (the Cowans and the Longstreets) who meet each other at the Longstreets’ apartment for coffee and more importantly to discuss an incident involving their two children. Soon their masks of self righteousness and worth slip revealing their real selves and opening the doors to all out Carnage.
The film obviously has an ensemble cast full of huge stars, stars you’ve seen single handily hold a film up on their own merit. One could be worried about the amount of raw talent on screen as they could potentially outshine one and other. Ironically they compliment each other rather well (though this can’t be said about the way they re-act to each other). Every one of them is on top form; their comic timing is impeccable and can I just point out how good Kate Winslet is at pretending she’s drunk. Though I would like to say Foster’s character (Nancy Longstreet) and in turn the way Foster handles her is absolutely splendid. In a hysterically annoying, politically correct sort of way.
Polanski’s choice of a small apartment setting perfectly compliments the mood of the film. A claustrophobic setting only emphasises the emotions flying around the room because there is literally nowhere for these characters to escape to; instead they choose to bounce off one and other. As a device to get the malicious sparks flying it works perfectly. However, after a while it does become awkward and exhausting. Such an intense setting with such intense emotions becomes draining fast and on occasion you do feel like Polanski is intentionally dragging this out just so he can continue with his own fun. That being said the latter half of Carnage is better than the first. More jokes fly around and the first 40 minutes of awkwardness evolves into a firework display of abuse
You can tell Polanski is enjoying himself here, why wouldn’t he? Carnage is essentially an ideological dog fight. Nature vs. Nurture. Change vs. Progress. Polanski may not be on top form but he’s enjoying himself and it rubs off nicely on the film. However, such exhausting filmmaking can only be watched once, I find no way of justifying to myself a repeat viewing. Which can be taken as either a compliment or insult.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (February ’12)