Overly-stagey version of Broadway Tony-winner. Playwright Yasmina Reza adapted her own script & director Polanski decided to do keep it “as is” without any opening up. Too bad. The core is a fascinating tale of two couples trying to maintain “civilized” behavior after their sons become involved in a schoolyard fight, but what works on stage looks totally fake on screen. Click HERE for FF2 haiku.
Tony-award winning playwright Yasmina Reza uses a cool abstract sensibility to puncture holes in highbrow audiences. In her two best-known plays, Art and God of Carnage, she keeps the number of people on stage very small and the level of tension very high. Art is a trio and God of Carnage is a quartet, and after both performances, I felt like I had been to the theatrical equivalent of a brilliant chamber music concert.
It’s frankly hard to understand what drew Roman Polanski to this material, which is so very different from the kind of stories he has told in the past. And then, having decided to direct God of Carnage (now simply called Carnage), he went one step further into error, collaborating with Reza on the screenplay, but treating her original script as sacred text. They make no attempt to “open it up” (as directors typically do when moving a story from stage to screen), and sorry to say, their “less is more” adaptation becomes stagey and fake, and ultimately a waste of time and talent.
This is a shame because Carnage is perfectly cast. The two violins are Jodie Foster (as “Penelope Longstreet”) and Kate Winslet (as “Nancy Cowan”). Christoph Waltz, the viola, is Nancy’s husband “Alan,” and John C. Reilly, the bass, is Penelope’s husband “Michael.” The time is now, the place is Brooklyn, and 99% of the action takes place in the Longstreet’s living room (with a few short trips into the kitchen and the powder room).
Except for the fact that they are both well-to-do, long-married couples, the Cowans and the Longstreets have only one thing in common: both couples have sons and their boys have had an altercation in the park. Penelope wants to be “civilized” about the whole thing, and she invites the Cowans into her home so they can “talk about it.” And talk they do! The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the voices combine in magical, musical ways: they mix it up (sometimes female duets, other time male duets), they switch partners, and everybody, of course, gets a solo. But in the end it’s just not enough.
PERSONAL NOTE: Regular readers know that I typically do my best to see a film with “fresh eyes,” but in this case I had seen God of Carnage on stage before I saw Carnage on screen. Obviously that eliminated the “element of surprise” (in short supply in any case), but a bigger problem was that the comic bits (which are plentiful) just didn’t have the punch they had for me in the intimate Goodman Theatre.
Photo Credits: Sony Pictures Classics