Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roman Polanski: The Animal Within (Carnage)

Foster, Reilly, Waltz, Winslet, Carnage, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

The inexplicable behavior of human beings has motivated the psychological bent on theater and ultimately the cinema in our time. Yasmina Reza's bourgeoisie character breakdown, God of Carnage became the toast of stages coast to international coast. Roman Polanski would seem an odd choice for the film version of her WASPy bitch-fest. On second thought, at this stage in his uncompromising career, Polanski can do whatever he wants and make it work seamlessly.

Two differing sets of parents meet up at the apartment of one to settle the playground fistfight of their young sons. In essence a claustrophobic chamber piece wherein differing approaches to parenting and life in general are skewed through heated dialogue, Polanski transports the action from Paris to Brooklyn, where he and Reza  dissolve in their intentions and we are offered an aptly vicious portrayal of American hypocrisy. At 80 minutes, it is the director's most brisk picture, while the heated monologues and ranting arguments feel no less important than the pleas of his unforgettable protagonists in The Pianist and Oliver Twist.

In collaboration with master cameraman Pawel Edelman and master composer Alexandre Desplat, and his uncannily gifted cast, Polanski has crafted a singular dark comedy experience which functions both as a conundrum of performance vs. experience and a ballsy little film experiment, a stylistic watershed. Class conflict, wage disparity, the shallow elite, stateside living room subterfuge all combine into a richly savage attack that could have been made by an uncommonly astute 25 year-old.

Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz all do some of their most vital work here. Foster and Reilly especially stand out, her uptight Liberal neuroses bristling brilliantly with his fed up, shouting schlub. Foster flies off the handle into a hysteria heretofore unseen, and Reilly's snapping comebacks straddle the line between hilarity and awkwardness sublimely. Winslet and Waltz are both excellent as well, nailing the stand-offish, milquetoast ennui of east coast inanity. All four locate their characters' hearts, but it's their equal prejudices that we will remember. Polanski's final masterstroke is to make us laugh so heartily while acknowledging the animal within us all.

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