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
The carnage left over after a verbal battle of wits
"Carnage" is about the carnage that is left over as two couples get together to discuss their sons' recent altercation. It's a play. Not just based on a play, but I'm pretty sure it is the play, word-for-word, scene-for-scene. But make that just one scene. One room, one afternoon, four characters. What makes it even more unique, is that it's a comedy. I don't think I've ever seen a comedy this simplistic in its setting.
Jodie Foster plays Penelope, she's the passive-aggressive wife and mother; her husband is played John C. Reilly and he just wants to make nice; their son was the victim. Kate Winslet's Nancy also just wants to make nice; her husband is played by Christoph Waltz and he's the aggressive-aggressive one; their son was the abuser.
I know what you're thinking. Is it really that easy to declare one 11 year-old boy the victim and the other the abuser? Aren't they both somewhat to blame for whatever occurred? Well, you try telling that to Foster's Penelope. After the 1 hour and 20 minute straight verbal battle, I am staying clear.
"Carnage" is funny because we know what each character is really thinking under their sincere, or false-sincere, passive cover. Eventually, once a bottle of scotch gets consumed, they admit to their feelings, and surprisingly, it still remains funny. That is where the brilliance of the writing comes in. You could apply the old adage, "it's funny because it's true." But there is something to these movies about the real human and family relations accurately displayed beneath a comedy banner.
Being a comedy, "Carnage" fared well enough getting Golden Globe nominations, but I am a little miffed at the lack of screenplay nominations. Then again, that's what happens when it is written and directed by Roman Polanski. I don't blame Hollywood for not always wanting to award him. If you don't want to reward him either, then find the play version of "Carnage". I'm sure it's just as good.
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