24 December 2011


Roman Polanski's Carnage opened in a few select cities, and apparently - one of them was Ankara. Ha! IN YOUR FACE!
Once again, I knew absolutely nothing about it beforehand, so I went in with no expectations whatsoever (aside from a vague sense that it would probably be good - I just watched Chinatown a few days ago), and I was utterly charmed. Carnage is not the new Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but the comparison invariably comes to mind. Both are movies that feature two couples in a room, a kind of drawing room comedy from hell with various arguments, unpleasant revelations, alliances broken and re-formed, etc. Both, I think, are very obviously plays that became movies, and honestly, both are arguably much more powerful in the theatre than on the screen. Carnage, fortunately, is not nearly as grim as WAOVW - it shares the wicked moments of humor, but doesn't follow it with a plunge into the abyss. It is also not paced as well - about 3/4 of the way through, there's a noticeable drag, where both the characters and the audience just want it to be over.

The New York Times review made some good points about aspects of the play that got lost in translation, or just weren't quite accurate. I wouldn't go so far as to say the movie "misses its mark badly" - perhaps you have to be a New Yorker to notice and get that upset over the movie's mis-steps. I do agree though, that the movie seems poised to be a scathing social critique, but it fumbles the catch. I almost want to watch it again to rethink that aspect. Because the first time around, you're so focused on the dynamics between the characters and what will happen next that you don't really think about what they're actually saying. I hadn't thought so much about the translation, but it's undeniably true. There are portions of dialogue that ring a bit off-key, and culturally speaking, the play is just obviously French, as are the people in it. The attempt to make them Americans (excuse me, New Yorkers - a kind of halfway between French and American) doesn't really work. I can't exactly put my finger on why, but there are various scenes that seem kind of clumsy until you imagine someone doing them in French, and then it clicks and seems totally natural. Then you realize why these characters seem stilted - it's not because they're in a movie that was actually a play, or because they're stuck in one room - it's because they're Frenchpeople disguised as Americans! Fish out of water! It seems somewhat telling, in this regard, that two of the actors (Christopher Waltz and Kate Winslet) aren't actual Americans - and perhaps that is why they come off as more believable?

The best thing about the movie is definitely the performances. Even though all of the characters are basically jerks, you also kind of like them all. Of course your sympathies ebb and flow throughout, but it's a testament to the skill of the actors that though occasionally lost, your good will towards them generally returns. Kate Winslet is good, though her character is a bit incoherent in some ways, Jodie Foster is wonderful, completely against her usual character (I think) and totally persuasive, John C Reilly is fantastic, initially playing his usual nice guy role before letting his true colors show, but the real prize is Christopher Waltz. The same guy who made Inglorious Basterds worth watching once again steals the show. I find Waltz completely hypnotic. In fact, there is something rattlesnake like about him, all smiles and friendliness but always tensed and ready to strike. And in this movie, most of the venom is for the sake of laughs, and they work. He is hilarious. Plenty of the other characters produce laughs too, but he is definitely the most consistent.

This, ultimately, is what makes the movie by all means worth watching: it's really funny. It's not a masterpiece (though you can see the potential for it to be - the basic scaffolding of it is brilliant), but it's an entertaining movie. And that's good enough for me.

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