There is something about a Roman Polanski film that spells doom for the characters it portrays. Over the swathe of his narratives, its characters shift from being despicable to pathetic and vice-versa. Carnage is no different, though many critics feel that it lacks the patented nastiness that make Polanski's films such as a squirmy, sadistic delight for cinephiles.
The plot is simple and reminiscent of a day-glo Who's Afraid of Virigina Woolf (with the latter, trust us, you never want to be invited to an after-party thrown by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton ever again). In Carnage, the parents of two squabbling high school kids meet over 'espresso' to discuss a possible rapprochement between the victim and the culprit. The first couple (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) has a son who has broken two teeth of his classmate in a scuffle in the neighbourhood park.
The victim's parents are played by Jodie Foster and John C Reilly. Given that Reilly has only recently played the typical paunchy, dazed-and-confused father in We Need to Talk About Kevin, one does wonder if he is becoming the male counterpart of Julianne Moore, who for a while after Safe, The Hours and Far From Heaven became the arthouse prototype of the suburban mother. While Winslet and Waltz represent an upper middle-class couple with all the trappings of the yuppie good life (Waltz, who plays a lawyer, is perpetually on the phone to the point of delirium), Foster and Reilly play the 'middle' middle-class couple, more contained in their aspirations, with their hearts ostensibly in the right place. That is until Kate Winslet pukes all over Jodie Foster's prized artist brochures stacked neatly on a coffee table in their cluttered apartment. And so the cookie crumbles.
The dialogue is witty, the performances stellar (can you go wrong with Winslet, Foster, Waltz and Reilly in one room?) and the bourgeois claustrophobia well-realized. Yet, for die-hard Polanski fans, Carnage does lack the bite of his other oeuvres. For beginners though, this is a good stepping stone before you tread darker Polanski terrain with Knife in the Water, Bitter Moon and Chinatown. So why not watch this for now and rent other Polanski goodies on DVD over your Yahoo! weekend?