A young couple move into an apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.
In Brooklyn Bridge Park, eleven year old Zachary Cowan strikes his eleven year old classmate Ethan Longstreet across the face with a stick after an argument. Among the more serious of Ethan's injuries is a permanently missing tooth and the possibility of a second tooth also being lost. Their respective parents learn of the altercation through Ethan's parents questioning him about his injuries. The Longstreet parents invite the Cowan parents to their Brooklyn apartment to deal with the incident in a civilized manner. They are: Penelope Longstreet, whose idea it was to invite the Cowans, she whose priorities in life include human rights and justice; Michael Longstreet, who tries to be as accommodating as possible to retain civility in any situation; Nancy Cowan, a nervous and emotionally stressed woman; and Alan Cowan, who is married more to his work as evidenced by the attachment he has to his cell phone and taking work calls at the most inopportune times. Although the meeting starts ... Written by
In the face of such classics as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby it would be a hollow statement to label Carnage one of Roman Polanski's best films; it's shockingly minimalistic compared to the rest of his catalog, and almost anachronistic in its old fashioned filmmaking style and stripped-down production. Many were probably disappointed by the film purely because of Polanski's name; it might have been better received if it was directed by a young newcomer. Case in point: 12 Angry Men and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, directed by young newcomers Sidney Lumet and Mike Nichols, respectively. Both are still considered among the best each director achieved, but also as experimental debuts that would lead to bigger and more ambitious things. Obviously this is not the case with Carnage, which is a veteran director returning to his roots, to a minimalism not seen in his work since the 50's. And yet, it's so much better than any of the more ambitious films he made in recent years - The Ghost Writer, Oliver Twist, The Pianist and The Ninth Gate all having their merits, but none a real classic or any kind of a surprise.
Not to say that Carnage is as good as 12 Angry Men or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, masterpieces of minimalism and cinematic landmarks. Carnage isn't any real news, cinematically speaking, but it's a wonderful exercise in acting and interaction, and if you're a fan of minimalistic cinema like I am you're bound to find interest in it. I never found it boring for a second - uncomfortable, yes, grating even, but never dull, I was completely drawn in by the wonderful performances of the leads - Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly - who manage to covey four complex, fascinating, repulsive and very realistic characters, and by the ever-shifting relationships and alliances between them. While it's clearly a filmed play - and Polanski let the original text shine - he makes excellent use of the possibilities the film format allows, from the bombastic and melodramatic to the quiet and subtle, neither of which is possible on stage, at least not in the same way.
Carnage isn't necessarily a masterpiece but it's a wonderful intellectual exercise and one of my favorite films of 2011. For fans of Roman Polanski or for anyone who loved minimalistic films with compact casts, from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to Tape and Cube, it's highly recommended.
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