Starring: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz.
Running Time: 79 mins. approx.
Seen At: Didsbury
On: Saturday, 4th February, 2012.
Originally a play entitled ‘God of Carnage’ written by Yazmina Reza in 2006, this is now adapted for film by one of our very finest filmmakers, Roman Polanski. The visionary behind such lasting cinematic milestones as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, and most recently the political thriller The Ghost Writer, now chooses this latest project, a biting, riotous social satire, which sees two sets of Brooklyn parents convene in an apartment to discuss an altercation which occurred between their two sons.
What starts as a superficially polite, gradually sliding façade - an artifice of pleasantries - soon turns into a hilariously uncomfortable war of words. As was the case with Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party in 1977, this is exactly the kind of brutal, squirm-inducing dinner party scenario that you’re so glad you’re not attending, and yet as a viewer, you secretly delight, and revel in being a fly-on-the-wall, witnessing Schadenfreude (the opportunity to glimpse at the misfortunes of others).
Utilizing the clever concept of confining the entire film into one exquisitely upholstered apartment, greatly increases its high level of theatricality. It’s supposed to make you feel claustrophobic and certainly does, but never in a way where you want to leave – you can’t wait to see the bubbling tensions between this quartet of suburbians completely boil over before exploding.
The couples in question are made up of four totally different characters. There’s the extremely tightly-wound, prickly, rigid travel writer Penelope (Jodie Foster). Her husband is Micheal, the complete antithesis – a laid-back household salesman, initially the group’s peacemaker (John C. Reilly).
Juxtaposed against these more traditional parents grounded in homemaking, are the other couple, the wealthier Cowen’s, logical investment banker Nancy (Kate Winslet) and her straight-talking, constantly distracted pharmaceutical manager husband Alan (Christoph Waltz). One couple cultured, the other superior, they’re all deliciously unlikable, bouncing off one another perfectly – with four brilliant actors, each giving performances which are as fantastic as each other. Christoph Waltz’s Alan has a highly amusing snorting laugh, freely admits his own son Zachery to be a maniac, and is always on his mobile phone trying to sell unorthodox pills.
With the scotch whiskey flowing, (which only serves to fuel these people’s contempt for each other even further), the acid-tongued remarks are soon in full swing, with topics of conversation as mundane and varied as animal cruelty, toilet-flushing and a gingerbread, apple and pear cobbler pie, which definitely disagrees with Kate Winslet’s Nancy, in the film’s most shockingly side-splitting moment, when she violently vomits all over Penelope’s treasured fine-art books! She also has to reach for the bucket several times afterwards, with other characters being broken off mid-sentence by that unmistakable retching sound!
The argument quickly moves away from trying to solve the dispute of the two sons, with the focus rapidly escalating into examining the issues in each other’s seemingly solid marriages.
The dialogue is barbed with a devilishly bitter sense of antagonism. The character’s political differences are even exposed: ‘My wife dressed me up as a liberal!’ the increasingly irritated Michael exclaims. Brittle Penelope isn’t ashamed of her unbreakably uptight attitude: ‘I don’t have a sense of humour, and I don’t want one’ she states. Nancy too doesn’t think twice about speaking her mind: ‘If you don’t think anything, don’t say anything!’ she snaps. When Alan’s preoccupation with his mobile becomes too much, Nancy drops it into a vase of tulips, to which an incredulous Alan replies: ‘You belong in a home dear!’ She then proceeds to drunkenly throw the tulips all over the floor!
I love the simplicity of the setup Polanski has constructed. All filmed on a soundstage in Paris, and then with the backdrops designed to double for New York with Subway trains whizzing past - the illusion is seamless.
The action gradually builds inside a pressure cooker of frayed tempers and excessive alcohol consumption, going from civilized, to mild annoyance, to vomit-emitting, with a crescendo of handbag slinging and verbal fireworks, this is a sparklingly witty, frequently laugh-out-loud experience, with its performances all perfectly judged. It also has the distinction of triumphantly translating a piece of theatre into the cinema. One of the year’s very best!
Rating: * * * * *