Sunday, December 18, 2011

Movie with Abe: Carnage

Directed by Roman Polanski
Released December 16, 2011

Film and theatre are different art forms, both with their strengths and weaknesses. Film allows for infinite visual possibilities and is not limited to a stage, while theater makes use of the imagination and features live, unpredictable performances. Most crucially, however, they are separate media, equally valid but not interchangeable. When a film reads, looks, and sounds like a play, it still has value but begs the question of why no filmic techniques were utilized to transplant a story from one art form to another. “Carnage” is certainly interesting, but is held back by the uncreative nature of its chosen format.

Since “Carnage” feels like a play, it’s all about the writing and the actors. The story is relatively simple, uniting two sets of parents whose children have had a rather violent schoolyard confrontation. On one side, there is Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) as the parents of the injured child, and Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Christoph Waltz (Alan) as the parents of his attacker. Both parties feel that their child deserves little blame for the incident, and Penelope is especially strong-willed in her insistence that Nancy and Alan should apologize for their son’s actions. Predictably, this leads to confrontation and to a circular conversation that never permits Nancy and Alan to leave Penelope and Michael’s apartment, no matter how many times they might try.

Each character is imbued with a definitive quality that makes them distinct and particularly stubborn, which starts out as a mildly noticed trait and reaches a tipping point in all cases as the film goes on. Foster’s Penelope is obsessive and concerned with doing the right thing, while Reilly’s Michael is laidback and uneager to create conflict. Winslet’s Nancy wants to resolve the situation without creating more hostility, and Waltz’s Alan is uninterested and constantly answering work calls on his cell phone. Sticking those people in a New York city apartment for eighty minutes leads to both dramatic and comic entertainment, and fiercely energetic and funny performances from this Oscar-heavy cast. The writing is repetitive but sharp, and the score by Alexandre Desplat, which plays only before and after the plot plays out in the apartment, is whimsical and amusing, providing some context for this entirely indoor staging. Limiting its cinematic self to the confines of the stage doesn’t necessarily mean much is lost, but something feels incomplete in this otherwise enthralling story.


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