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Carnage - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

It's not every day you get to see Kate Winslet vomit onto a coffee table. I'm not sure that's exactly the best selling point of Carnage, but at the very least it's the one truly surprising turn of events. These characters, all privileged New Yorkers, are so preoccupied with being "civil," even their response to this shocking disgusting episode is muted, with forced politeness.

There's a fair number of things in Carnage that are rather unpleasant to look at, actually, besides the sudden barfing of Nancy (Winslet). There's the persistently uptight expressions on the face of Penelope (Jodie Foster), whose son was bashed in the face with a stick by the son of Nancy and Alan (Christoph Waltz). Alan is the most annoying of all, as he spends an inordinate amount of the movie's 79 minutes obnoxiously talking on his cell phone, being generally rude to the people around him. In one shot, we're treated to a close-up of his face next to the phone and stuffing his face with the apple pear cobbler given to him. It's almost as gross to look at as the barfing.

Michael (John C. Reilly) is the only character who is never truly annoying; his role seems largely to be reacting to everyone else. That said, the four of these people together do make an intriguing character study, of people trying to do what polite society dictates they do about the scuffle between their kids, but getting sucked into a conversational vortex that breaks down many social barriers until they all degenerate into verbal barbarianism.

With the exception of the opening and closing scenes, which are wide shots of the kids who have their altercation, the entire film is set Michael and Penelope's apartment. They have invited Nancy and Alan over for a discussion about their children, and from the very beginning, Nancy and Alan are trying to leave under the impression that they have things settled. But one thing after another sucks them back in, until it's revealed that none of them truly feel they way they originally presented themselves.

It's easy to say that alliances shift and revert, but the underlying truth is that all four of these people are really only on their own side. This is yet another movie about how pretty much all adults are selfish assholes. Not one of these people is really all that likable; that's the nature of satire. Satire of what, then? Upper middle-class culture, I suppose. Penelope does research for writing about Darfur, and is presented as the privileged type who fancies themselves as do-gooders just by reading about lives far worse than their own. We all know people like this.

Alan, at least, is the most honest of them all -- even if it makes him the most annoying. He generally doesn't give a shit, and freely admits his own kid is a maniac. They've all got issues, though. It's interesting that apparently only the women have some kind of problem with alcohol. There are times when they do things that aren't quite believable. Why would Nancy not bother to go into the bathroom right after she announces she isn't feeling well? How many people would actually drop their spouse's phone into a vase full of water while guests at another person's house?

Some of these things, I understand, are for comic value. Except Carnage is far from a laugh riot -- I got a few chuckles out of it. It's based on the stage play God of Carnage, and not shot a whole lot differently: director Roman Polansky keeps all the action in one stationery location. To his credit, he shoots it in such a way that it really never feels claustrophobic, perhaps because Michael and Penelope's apartment is nice and spacious.

Although the story beats are a bit uneven, once the characters start to let their guard down, they do take on a sort of train-wreck quality, even if some of their words and actions don't quite ring true. This is a stellar cast, after all, and all four of them are adept at selling lines that might come across as a bit stupid on the page. It's too bad the end is so bizarrely abrupt. I don't require that a story always tie up loose ends, but given the brief run time and the total lack of anything resembling resolution, it's almost like the movie just stops in the middle of the story.

On the other hand, do I really care what more these characters have to say? Not really. But somehow, they do command attention while on screen. Carnage is the rare breed of movie that manages to be entertaining even when all its characters are unpleasant -- it's actually kind of fun while it lasts, but once it's over you don’t really miss it.

John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz barely keep themselves from causing CARNAGE.

Overall: B
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