Kids! Who’d have them! These parents, the Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) and the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), are trying to do stay calm when they get together in a plush Manhattan apartment after their sons are involved in a fight but, as the meeting progresses, there’s no escaping and their behaviour gets worse than childish.
‘It’s ghastly but utterly riveting. Reza is merciless in her dissection of social hypocrisy and she finds a ruthlessly efficient accomplice in Polanski.’ Movie Talk
‘Polanski directs with an alertness and mordant wit we haven’t seen from him for decades.’ Financial Times
“Brief, brutal and barmy.” Time Out
“A shot of pure, exhilarating cinematic malice.” Empire Magazine
The film is based closely on the highly successful play God Of Carnage by the French playwright Yasmina Reza who co-wrote the screenplay with the veteran film director Roman Polanski, showing here that he is still a force to reckon with after over fifty years at the top of his profession.
I am usually luke-warm about stage adaptations for the screen as they seldom get away from that sense of theatrical blocking that is awkward on camera and they often fail to develop a cinematic language of their own. Here though, Polanski has transcended a lot of the problems without losing any of the play’s claustrophobia as two sets of parents, all truly ghastly but very human too, are set on collision course, all four against each other, in a New York apartment where, it seems, no one will escape uninjured. Polanski doesn’t shirk the technical problems here but allows the camera to become the fifth person in the room often sitting on someone’s shoulder, hiding behind the mirror and poking its nose into even the most unpleasant of bodily functions. The film, believe it or not, knowing this director’s filmography, is nothing to do with horror – well not horror of a gory or spooky kind. The horror is in the social behaviour of the couples and, with Yasmina Reza’s keen ear for middle class smugness and spite, the horror is truly funny. Ultimately, maybe, the play dwarfs the film but Polanski does a great job in the most unassuming of ways and with sublime concision says it all in a surprisingly short running time.
The quartet of actors are as classy as it comes these days firing on all cylinders as each ratchets up the tension from the awkward silences of their first meeting until full, whisky-fueled mayhem breaks out in that respectable Manhattan living room. This is the stuff of comedy but with some of the bite of, say, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? even if the power of the earlier play is not multiplied by two by having two sets of warring couples.
It is very hard to make comparisons between the four actors as they all supply terrific performances elevated by their ensemble work. I would have loved to see them recreate their roles in the theatre. Having said that, wonderful as Christoph Waltz is with his nauseatingly mobile-phoned obsessed lawyer as is John C. Reilly as the cozy, easy-going but offensively reactionary salesman, it is the two women that I will remember longest. Jodie Foster’s liberal, ethically-motivated mum with her research into the horrors of African famines, is magnificent as her poise is challenged, undermined and then driven beyond breaking point and she descends into an hysteria that is both startling and comically timed to perfection. Kate Winslet too achieves a similar transformation and matches Foster’s comic timing move by move as she gradually reveals the cracks in this Wall Street chick’s icy reserve – by the end of the movie, she has held, quite literally, nothing back.
So a wonderfully entertaining film of a wonderfully entertaining play that will make you want to catch it on stage if it is ever put on at a theatre near you. Meanwhile, go see the movie and be grateful that Mr Polanski is still in business. If you want to see the great man himself, don’t blink, or you’ll miss his Hitchcockian appearance on screen.