"Carnage," Roman Polanski's sinewy adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play, "Le dieu du carnage," is a cozily evil little acting exercise whose four characters amuse as they struggle, without a hint of success, with civility.
Two sets of parents are brought together in the handsome Brooklyn apartment of one of the couples to iron out the differences which brought their respective sons into a schoolyard fracus. Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster), a rather rigid left-wing stereotype whose son suffered a dental injury, wants to document the incident in writing - with the help, of course, of her rough-hewn husband Michael (John C. Reilly), who claims he was "forced to dress as a liberal" for the occasion, and the parents of the other child, The Cowans, Alan (Christoph Waltz and Nancy (Kate Winslet).
Matters don't go well.
The guarded defensiveness that each one initially exhibits eventually disintegrates into an afternoon of blame and accusation, hilariously so.
Given that one of my (many) editors once referred to me as "evil" (a charge that fit but for reasons that will go unexplained here), I relished the verbal bloodletting that trivializes the couples' misguided intentions.
Co-scripters Polanski and Reza, working from Michael Katims' English language adaptation, provide their actors with one juicy moment after another. Foster's pinched, brittle persona, in particular, is exploited to the hilt under Polanski's direction, while Waltz, a standout here, absolutely nails his unctous careerist. Winslet turns in a shrewdly witty performance as the most reasonable and most sensitive of the group. The only wink link is Reilly who can't redeem the bore he's playing.
And through no fault of his own: It's a poorly written character.
These roles in New York were played by Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini (as The Longstreets) and Hope Davis and Jeff Daniels (as The Cowans). Ralph Fiennes played Alan in the British production, and Isabelle Huppert created the role of Penelope (who was actually named Veronica on Broadway and Véronique in France) in the original French version.