(Updated: 9/1/11 – 11:28am)
Another much anticipated film has screened at a major festival and been received without much in the way of pomp nor circumstance. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Yasmina Reza play God of Carnage, more economically titled Carnage, premiered at the Venice Film Festival today and the early reactions seem to strike a tone of mild amusement with some reservations. The film stars Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, and Jodie Foster as two separate pairs of married couples who convene to have an intervention after their sons are involved in a schoolyard brawl. Set mostly in the home of one couple the film follows the two sets of parents as emotions flare and tempers are brought to a comedic boiling point.
Lee Marshal of The Evening Standard posts the first review of the film and like other reviewers he has to mention how the film translated from stage to screen. Unlike other critics who are more critical of the transition, Marshal thinks that it works to set the right tone:
Little attempt is made to disguise the fact that this is the film of a play. And the dramatic gears grind a little during certain shifts of allegiance along couple and gender lines. But making the audience feel claustrophobic is central to Carnage’s method: we’re penned in, unable to leave this airless apartment with its collection of liberal gewgaws from component hi-fi to African totems to real logs (presumably never used) stacked by the marble fireplace.
Justin Chang of Variety spends ample time in his review addressing the question many of us were wondering – how are the performances? With the incredible cast of talent he believes that most of the performances work to an extent, but there is one true standout:
While the four actors deliver distinctive turns, marked by body language often more pointed than the dialogue, the proceedings are somewhat dampened by the miscasting of one couple. Foster, called on to function as more of an ensemble player than usual, nails Penelope’s insufferable micro-managing and liberal do-gooder impulses, but the tightly wound actress doesn’t bellow with the full-blooded authority the role requires. Reilly is almost too easily cast as Michael, pointedly the shlubbiest and most blue-collar of the bunch, at times tilting the material toward a broader style of comedy than desired.
Winslet assuredly charts Nancy’s passive-aggressive journey from vulnerable to tetchy. But it’s Waltz who gives the film’s most delectable turn, in part because it’s the most subdued. Almost mumbling his lines to himself and delivering half of them into a cell phone, his Alan radiates supreme indifference to the needs of anyone but himself.
Oliver Lyttleton of The Playlist believes that Carnage will not be remembered years from now as a major piece for Polanski. It is easily amusing, but ultimately unmemorable:
But it’s also a film of very little ambition, a minor entry in the director’s canon. Perhaps it was just the desire to shoot something fast and quick after his brush with justice, which is certainly understandable, but he has essentially taken a pre-existing script, cast four A-listers, locked them in a room, and shot it. There are few directorial flourishes beyond a firmly Polanski-esque opening shot, and almost nothing to enable the identification of the movie as a Polanski picture; for once in his career, it feels like almost anyone could have directed it. It’s not as though the play could have been opened up much, but he really might as well have stuck some cameras in the audience of a stage production. Maybe that approach would have been fine for a more substantial piece, but at best Reza’s material is targeting some fairly low-hanging fruit (upper middle-class hypocrisy, in the main) without adding much to the discussion, and at worst it’s not about much more than the set-up for the next gag.
@GuyLodge: CARNAGE (C+) Loudly enjoyable, but straight-ahead film treatment magnifies play’s slight pettiness. Poised, cunning Waltz far best in show.
And he also ranks the performers:
@GuyLodge: Waltz >>>>> Reilly > Foster > Winslet
UPDATE: Guy Lodge at In Contention has since posted his review. In it he expands on his appreciation for the performance given by Christoph Waltz:
The men, perhaps surprisingly, fare better. John C. Reilly is leaning a little on the mannerisms of his role’s Broadway occupant James Gandolfini, but plays delicately against the rhythms of onscreen spouse Foster. It’s Christoph Waltz, however, who most creatively interprets and restyles Reza’s brittle writing, and consequently walks off with the film: elegantly wielding a slippery Euro-Yank accent and maintaining a chilly calm when the remaining characters are pushed into hysteria, his indifferent, work-wed father is the most waspish of the four, yet somehow the closest the script comes to a sympathetic character — if only because he seems to be the only one aware how awful they all are.
Stay tuned for more reviews throughout the Venice Film Festival.
Not too many were predicting Carnage to be a big play for Best Picture or Director, but many had its performers ranked high in the acting races. For my part I had Christoph Waltz in the top 5 for Best Supporting Actor and Kate Winslet in the top 10 for Best Supporting Actress. It seems that Waltz in the top 5 might still be a safe bet, for now, but Winslet should be taken out of the top 10. Jodie Foster seems like the only other potential nominee from the cast as Lee Marshall singled her out as “Oscar-worthy.” The only question that remains is where will they be campaigned? If Foster and Waltz get put into the lead acting races their chances are slim as the field is already pretty full, whereas if they get put in supporting they might have a shot. We will have to wait and find out where the chips fall as more reviews pile in.
Other Fall 2011 Review Round-Ups: