Carnage: Roman Polanski in real time.
I’ve been looking forward to this film. For a while. Besides the fact that i am a (reluctant) Polanski fan – I must say it helped a great deal to see Jodi Foster was willing to be a part of this project – I also have a bit of a soft spot for these one-act plays turned into films. Death and the Maiden is one of my favorite films. Even though it isn’t one-act, I also love Six Degrees of Separation for the theatre style of the performances and the narrative.
Well, I have to say, it was rather a large disappointment.
It’s one of those films that should have been a lot better.
The most exciting thing I can say about it is that the entire film is done in real-time. That’s a feat and the challenge that Polanski primarily wanted to take up. The direction is good, and there are some interesting scenes placements, but on the whole, in this case the theatricals do not make the leap to cinema effectively. A very real problem here is that the actors don’t translate to real-time very well. The roles are forced,(especially the normally brilliant Jodi Foster) and frankly unbelievable. The actors appear wooden and sometimes as though they are moving from well rehearsed placement to well rehearsed placement. One gets the feeling all the way through this odd film that they would have been much better off to several takes of certain moments, getting the very best out of these wonderful actors.
It seems that it was the concept of shooting the film in one contained space and in real-time that intrigued Polanski. Stating “It’s a challenge to make a film in real-time,” Polanski expounded further in a Le Figaro interview (translated by indiewire.com) that, “I can’t think of an example where the director has not cheated. Like in Hitchcock’s Rope. Not here. There is no blackout.”
Taking place in an upper middle class residence in Brooklyn (due to Polanski’s legal troubles, a Parisian apartment substitutes), corporate attorney Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and his wife, investment broker Nancy (Kate Winslet), pay an afternoon visit to wholesaler Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) and his spouse, liberal-minded non-fiction writer Penelope (Jodie Foster). The couples are meeting to discuss a recent altercation between their sons that resulted in one boy losing two of his teeth. From a forced civility, the uncomfortable scenario soon devolves into histrionics. They spout, scream and generally dissolve into behaviour far worse than the children. This film is an attack on political correctness and the pallid niceties of the upper middle class in our day and age.
There are some very annoying plot problems with this film that, along with the way-too-heavy-handed acting really detract from what should have been a great movie. The Cowans ‘almost’ leave three times and their re-entry into the apartment they are dying to flee from is forced and strange. You feel like screaming “Walk out! Just walk out now!”
Then the deterioration of the marriage between Michael and Penelope is just plain weird. There is no motivation for it, but they act as though they suddenly caught each other in bed with someone else. Also, why can’t Penelope have a drink with the others? Why is Nancy constantly looking at her reflection in the mirror? How is it that the oddly-matched Longstreets ever got together? Why does Alan use phones to shield himself from interpersonal contact? Because these character problems aren’t addressed, what should be a fascinating sudden insight into four adults, ends up being an annoying flapping of jaws of adults whose behavior is so poor it is, for the most part, unbelievable.
In the end, regardless of this being a film by THAT amazing director with THOSE amazing actors, there is very little here to set you on fire.
And I SO wanted to love this film too.