Scathing verbal revenge between two sets of parents in this bemused black comedy. Carnage takes place entirely inside a condo flat where two sets of parents meet to discuss their children’s playground fight. Jodie Foster (“Panic Room”) and John C. Reilly (“Cedar Rapids”) play the parents of the boy physically hurt, while Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) and Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Basterds”) play the parents of the boy assaulter. While it initially appears they share a fair understanding and a truce, a wellspring of misunderstandings emerge just as they are about to part ways. This leads to a long escalating battle of wits for the rest of the afternoon verging on getting out of hand. If you guess Waltz must be the star scene-stealer within the cast, you are right.
The condo flat belongs to Foster and Reilly, whom as an author of educational books and houseware salesman, are nominally working class in comparison to Waltz’s corporate lawyer and Winslet’s investment broker. Their son’s two teeth are irrevocably cracked but their visitors are willing to pay for the dental work. That’s solved. But for sanctimony, Foster wants the child to come to their place and apologize thoroughly for the damage he’s cause. Done, Winslet assures. Yeah, but he’s not going to really mean it, Waltz says.
Director Roman Polanski (“The Ghost Writer” his previous film) tweaks some real ironic humor into the situation of Winslet and Waltz almost getting onto the elevator but not quite exiting – the humor is in the distilled diplomacy of the situation. They have to clear up the idea of what an “apology” really means, and so they come back in for peach cobbler and coffee before moving onto brandy and, of course, angry drunk talk.
Their 12-year old son is well, just a 12-year old, Waltz explains. Foster suggests that their boy is lacking in real culture. Reilly tries to bring the conversation to neutrality by saying an adult’s whole life goes down the drain as soon as you have children to drain the life out of you for the rest of time. Winslet tactfully sympathizes with Foster’s side while sticking up for her hostile child’s integrity.
A couple of great surprises crop up including an episode of vomiting and one of the wives walking in on the other wife’s husband with his pants down. The conversation steers into at one point a contest of which is the unhappier married couple, and further on, the men get on one side and the women on the other to thrash down insults on married life.
The movie comes to an abrupt stop just as it is really getting exciting. But you can’t help but delight in Waltz’s perpetual rude phone call making amidst company. Waltz’s insensitivity is hysterical, and it’s his insensitivity that pushes everybody’s buttons. And he pushes the film’s buttons, too.
80 Minutes. Rated R.
TWISTED DRAMA / ACTORS SHOWCASE / FALL MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966); “Sleuth” (1972); “Tape” (2001); “Dogville” (2003).