Anyone who yearns for the dialogue-driven brutality of plays like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will embrace Carnage, a four-way battle royal directed with lethal precision by Roman Polanski. Based on God of Carnage, a multiple-award-winning play that was recently the toast of Broadway and London’s West End, the film adaptation captures the darkly satiric vision of playwright Yasmina Reza.
The plot has been set in motion by a fight between two 11-year-olds in a park: thanks to a blow from a branch, one of the kids has a pair of broken teeth. Both sets of parents have met to discuss the situation, and are being eminently civilized as they snack on cobbler and discuss the challenges of childrearing. Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) is a sensitive and brittle liberal who works in a bookstore and is authoring a tome on the massacre in Darfur; husband Michael (John C. Reilly), hearty and genial, is a self-made wholesaler of plumbing parts. It was their son who was hurt, and since they are hosting the meeting, they have a psychological advantage over Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet), respectively a money manager and a lawyer currently representing a sleazy pharmaceutical company in a pending class-action lawsuit.
Right from the start there are hints that both marriages are less than ideal, although the spouses are bonding with each other in response to the possible threat posed by their counterparts. Nerves start to fray as Alan rudely and repeatedly answers his cellphone to discuss the lawsuit. Eventually, the conversation veers off-topic, with all four participants gradually revealing differing belief systems — and less polite versions of themselves. By the time a bottle of 18-year-old scotch is being passed around, the tone is reckless and belligerent as hints of racism, political intolerance and misogyny pop up. But the battle lines have blurred and shifted, with the men sometimes forging a temporary alliance that in turn sparks the women to unite with a scathing response. Hostilities mount, the arguments are sometimes irrational, and civilization’s thin veneer is shredded to comic tatters.
Reza walks a fine line between intellectualism and farce, and her black-humoured provocations can rub some people the wrong way. But the dialogue is electrifying in the hands of these marvelous actors, while maestro Polanski keeps ratcheting up both the tension and the entertainment value of this shocking portrait of what can lurk in even the poshest of homes. Have fun! M
Carnage ★★★½Directed by Roman Polanski; Starring Jodie Foster, John C. ReillyR – 79 minutesOpens Friday at the Odeon
Tis the season to seek out a yummy “winter warmer,” and there are few better locations than venerable Spinnakers, ground zero for the craft beer scene in Victoria. It’s the only pub in the city serving a daily cask, Monday to Friday from 4-6 p.m., with pints priced at a tasty $5. Ranging from spicy Belgians to intense India Pale Ales, this is a great chance for beer lovers to treat their palate to something special.