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
Working on a "sense of community," the two couples in Carnage engage in slowly evolving urban warfare, precipitated by violence in the playground between their two sons. This adaptation from the Broadway play, God of Carnage, is a soberer (by a little) version of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Penelope (Jody Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly) host Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christof Waltz) in their Brooklyn apartment to iron out difficulties coming from their sons' fight, which resulted in Penelope and Michael's son's mangled mouth. What begins civilly escalates to a raw verbal mêlée with all players laying bare their prejudices and weaknesses while the issue of the repentance of Nancy and Alan's child becomes a vehicle for class and culture clash. As in director Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, the action is almost exclusively in the small, one bedroom apartment, resulting in an uncomfortable crowding of bodies and egos. And it doesn't take long for the individual differences to surface as one is conciliatory, another confrontational, another detached, and another bewildered.
Nor does it take long (only an 80 minute production anyway) for alliances to build (and not necessarily in the same couple) with the refrain "Why are we still here?" becoming the battle cry. Yes, it doesn't turn out well, nor would most confrontations except that the civil veneer usually stays intact for most of us.
But when writers Yasmina Reza and Polanski allow the characters to speak their minds, albeit helped by Scotch, the drama gets good and the words become socially lethal. What I like best is the language, not elevated but sassy, smart, and colloquial: "Should we wrap this up?" Yes, it is a film to be wrapped, but there is no real end to the social jousting that goes on in our minds if not our mouths, which are sometimes beaten badly as careless children might do in their play.
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