The exchanges, initially conveying tight-lipped good intentions, descend into full-blown antipathy as middle-class neuroses and cultural faultlines are laid bare.
On one side: Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet (John C Reilly) – she, a tightly wound bundle of liberal condescension; he, a boorish everyman straining at his wife’s leash. On the other: Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) – her passive-aggressive eagerness to please eventually fractures, while his wolfishly slick, corporate indifference proves more robust.
Carnage is adapted from a play and never transcends those origins – indeed, the film is a single 80-minute scene played out entirely within the confines of the Longstreets’ apartment. There are points when this unconventional premise feels limiting, claustrophobic – experimental for the sake of experimental – but the performances of the four leads elevate the film into an effective straight-faced farce.
Waltz, in particular, holds the audience’s attention for every frame and makes the most of having all the best lines. It does occasionally, though, feel slightly contrived – would two couples, thrown together by circumstance, really reveal so much about themselves and their fraught marriages?
In short, it’s a compelling play – rich and note-perfect in character-study and long on black comedy – recast on-screen with pleasant, if slightly routine, skill.
Good for: Those with an appetite for wordy domestic angst
Starring: John C Reily, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet,Christoph Walz | 15 | 80 mins