Adapted from the Tony and Olivier award-winning play, God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski’s latest movie tells the story of two middle class couples thrown together over the course of one intense evening as a result of a violent incident involving their 11-year-old sons. What begins as a putative meeting of conciliation for their respective parents quickly escalates into something more unsavoury as the tensions mount, the whiskey flows and the masks begin to slip.
For its West End debut, God of Carnage offered some starry names in the shape of Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott. (On Broadway, the roles were taken by Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden). For his screen version, Polanski (who co-wrote the screenplay with the author) has assembled an equally impressive foursome who together have amassed four Oscars, five BAFTAs and five Golden Globes.
Couple number one is played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. She’s a strait-laced art lover who plays everything by the book; he’s a self-made wholesaler who is always eager to please. Their son is the victim of the assault. Couple number two is played by Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz; she’s a nervous investment broker; he’s an overconfident lawyer permanently attached to his mobile phone. Their son is the perpetrator of the assault. The beauty of the play is how all of the above begin the evening by observing routine social protocol but soon relations break down and, interestingly, they don’t always break down along family lines. At times, it becomes a battle of the genders. Think Lord of the Flies for the urban middle class.
When transferring a stage play to the big screen, some directors make the mistake of opening the story out for the sake of it. Polanski has the confidence to basically film the play itself which takes place entirely in the confines of the front room of the first couple. The story thus retains the claustrophobic elements of the original play. When you have four actors of this calibre on show, you don’t need any visual gimmicks. Carnage is an oft thought-provoking, oft funny drama that reveals a lot about the human condition. Strongly recommended.