A lifelong master of investigating the dramatic potential of confined spaces and encroaching claustrophobia, the seventy-eight-year-old Roman Polanski prepared his adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s boulevard comedy-cum-sketch “God of Carnage” during his confinement to his Swiss chalet while resisting deportation to California. The result, “Carnage,” is confined to a single apartment in Brooklyn, patterned within a Restoration Hardware-inch of its life by veteran production designer Dean Tavoularis (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “The Godfather: Part II,” “One from the Heart,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Zabriskie Point”). Even on a small screen, every element is pointed, as you’d hope from a Polanski picture. Take even the characteristic Brooklyn fireplace plopped at one end of the living room, whether ersatz or even Carrera marble, it’s a modest arch not known for triumph, but simplest hominess. The accuracy of each element as the camera roams the rooms is devastating, as is the hard accumulation of each character’s agitated—yet keenly right—posture and gestures. They, the entire quartet, are dismal shits, quarrelers whose life rises above the script’s homiletic disdain by some heavy lifting by each actor. Two sets of parents bicker over the acts of two unseen players: how will the act of one son striking another on a riverside playground be resolved? Michael and Penelope (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) are the parents of the one who was struck; Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) bore the spawn that Alan calls a “savage.” Circling in Penelope and Michael’s intimate space, territorial games ensue, in real time, of language, class and, most telling, space. Alan, a cynical lawyer, takes a series of business calls on his cell, murmuring and laughing and leaning up against the furniture in feral disdain of the other couple’s home. Waltz’s performance is the most lurid, alarming physicalization of the unabashed “fuck you” you can see anywhere in the city now, outside of the acts of an average Chicago alley tom. The actors are self-contained, too, enveloped in these petty personas: beyond Waltz’s nubby silk disdain, Winslet captures protective self-effacement; O’Reilly is thoughtless gab captured in a grin; and Foster is somewhere between a lightning bolt and a crushing rictus, the most alarmingly tightly wound she’s ever been. (O’Reilly’s confession of the fate of a noisy hamster chills the blood.) “Carnage” is a skin-ripplingly unpleasant experience in almost every motion and moment: Reza’s thin schema hardly matters in the heightened fug of mutual and reciprocal contempt. You’re trapped, it’s a tomb, you just want the fuck out of there. That’s Polanski’s gift, if not his charm. 79m. (Ray Pride)
“Carnage” opens its mouth Friday at Landmark Century and Renaissance Place.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.