Carnage (showtimes) is adapted from Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning play God of Carnage, a product of the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? school of writing. It deals with a tense meeting between two sets of parents that starts off very progressive and polite. Before long, however, bits of ugliness emerge. You know where it's going and in real life you would quickly head for the hills rather than suffer through such an encounter. But this is fiction, and it's fun watching the veneer of civilization fade and the fangs come out. It's even more fun watching four gifted thespians enjoying an opportunity to act their fannies off.
Roman Polanski directs the story quite efficiently, aside from some unnecessary close-ups here and there. The film stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Cool cast. In the interest of clarity and brevity, I'll refer to the actors directly rather than by their character names. The set-up: During a playground fight, Kate and Christoph's son picked up a stick and wailed on Jodie and John's son. Jodie and John initiated the meeting of the parents to address the incident in an adult, evolved fashion. Kate and Christoph, though appearing appropriately uneasy, adopt a similarly refined tone.
But Kate keeps her coat on and Christoph keeps taking business calls on his phone. Jodie and John notice. Soon the first inappropriate remark slips out and the devolution begins. It's all very stagey, but that's part of why the production is so entertaining. Yes, serious issues are discussed, but the appeal is the spectacle of the meeting. The artificiality of the oh-so-grown-up summit and the revelation that people can be rude, crude and downright savage - it's all so ... obvious. But juicy! And everybody emotes all over the place! Best of all, it's short. The film runs a brisk hour and twenty minutes, just long enough to get the job done without becoming bloated, like so many works in this genre. Carnage offers a fine opportunity to wallow in excess and feel superior afterward.