Another thing that drew me to the film was the fact that it didn't seem as though it was going to be hiding from the stage play roots, roots that saw it pulled into one location and keeping the main characters together with plenty of dialogue, conversation and interaction.
Carnage looked like an adult, intelligent film that still managed to be funny and entertaining as well as insightful; at least that's what I was hopeful for.
The meeting is almost over when we join with the characters of Alan Cowan played by Christopher Waltz, Nancy Cowan played by Kate Winslet, Penelope Longstreet played by Jodie Foster and Michael Longstreet played by John C. Reilly. The Cowan's are preparing to leave as they watch over a statement that the Longstreet's are preparing for the school.
However as they are heading to the lifts a few barbed comments pop-up and the discussion heats up, returning them to the apartment to continue the discussion and as they continue talking the conversation wanders away from the children and to the parents themselves. Through the conversation the couples' respective issues and failures rear their heads and as it becomes more heated their adult meeting starts falling apart.
I have to leap straight into the performances with this film because they are excellent from the opening moments. One thing I really love about the film is that the ladies are allowed to step forward and take equal billing if not in front of the men, something that doesn't always happen in Hollywood.
Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet are fantastic in the film, their performances are amongst their best, and if they don't both walk away with nominations there's something wrong with the entire awards system. Actually, how ironic that I just wrote that.
Carnage only received a limited release in America last year and that's hugely disappointing but then is it the kind of film that would do well in America? Considering that it's a Roman Polanski film perhaps that's not so surprising.
It's hard to pick between the two female leads as to who gave the best performance since they both invest so much into it. Jodie Foster's portrayal of a character struggling to keep face when she's carrying so much anger and frustration was fantastic, just as it was to see that facade break down. Her ongoing bitterness and her cutting and vicious comments do really make you believe that she's genuine about her feelings.
Her character early in the film where she snips and slices with such great power through a word, a look or an inclination is almost painful to watch at times, and when she starts to lose control and her character turns into a vulnerable and emotional wreck she does display an amazing range in her acting ability.
Kate Winslet similarly has a great character that is hiding her own set of issues as well as her real character which, after her husband pushes her too far and she has a little drink, comes to the fore. When she gets to this point she delivers a great performance, especially when she's playing drunk. Oh and by the way, none of the characters can handle their Bruichladdach, which is an excellent whisky.
She has some excellent moments and I loved her nervous performance at the beginning of the film as she tries to get away from the couple. She also delivers a very natural performance and when her character is still trying to smooth everything over you can see when a word, a comment or a look gets through her facade and hits her genuinely looking aggrieved and riled.
Despite originally grating against each other the couples bond together with each of the sexes connecting against the other, and watching the two pairs first at odds and then finding common ground and connecting is just another example of the strong scripting and the performances. It shouldn't be forgotten that it is the writing that gives the actors such great material to work with, but let me come back to that.
For there are still the two performances from the leading men to talk about, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, and while I've heaped so much praise on the emotionally strong performances from the ladies I am definitely not forgetting the men, nor am I saying their performances are any less than the ladies, but their characters are much more stable and stolid, never the less they do have as much involvement in the story and direction of the different relationships.
Waltz does fantastically as the instigator of his wife's breakdown, and indeed he works well to erode the other relationship as he and Foster's character grate together so well. His offhand comments, his continual butting in and out of each conversation to the answering of his mobile and his habit of dropping bombs into the middle of the conversation are enough to push the characters apart and build both annoyance and amusement with the audience.
Meanwhile Reilly delivers a good supporting performance, the turning of his character is performed really well and when he breaks out about being dressed up as a liberal it makes you realise how good his performance has been so far and how natural it is.
The power of the film isn't just in these individual performances though, its how they play off of each other and how we see the relationships break down and rebuild on opposite sides from where they began.
The film does have a very clear feeling of a stage play and, even without seeing it performed I get the sense that the film is not far from it at all. It's rare to see a film where the power lies in the scripting and performance above anything else, and there is little else to the film as it is contained in just two or three rooms.
While the script is excellent and looks as though it pulls heavily from the stage play from which it is adapted, there's also a strong feeling that the play must have quite a bit more to it than the film as the pacing does feel rather fast especially early on. I felt that there should have been a little more time for lines and characters to settle, particularly with the back and forth between the couples in the hallway scenes.
One thing about the script that shouldn't be missed is just how much fun and enjoyable the film is, there's a lot there to laugh at and it is rather funny. It's not often I hear a British audience laugh out loud so much at a film, especially for one of these screenings where people don't really know what they're coming to see, just a free film. The laughter grew throughout, building in the second half which is where the characters start to pay off.
The end of the film did feel a little harshly cut, seemingly finishing before the story had played out, still it did carry onto the credits scene for a little more comedy and what could have been said to have been a more conclusive ending. Yet I still felt that the film and the characters could have moved on a little further to a conclusion before the credits, perhaps delivering something stronger to show the futility of the arguments.
Carnage is a well written and wonderfully performed film that allows the two leading ladies to deliver a couple of fantastic performances covering a wide range of emotion, not the average leading role you see in many Hollywood films.
The film is dynamic, funny and is both performance and script focussed, providing the audience with an intelligent and adult story which felt a lot more grown up than many of the adult dramatic comedies that we see in the cinema.
The performances from Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet are absolutely fantastic and compelling to watch, and Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly aren't left behind in the film either. Carnage is well worth seeing.
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