Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s stage play ‘The God of Carnage’ is a pressure cooker of simmering social politeness between two New York couples who congregate to discuss the recent physical dispute between their two adolescent sons which resulted in the physical attack of one by the other. The ensuing meeting is typical of such situations, with both couples trying to enforce their differing opinions whilst at the same time exposing the internal disputes of their individual relationships. The final result is short, sharp ,witty and enlivened by an exceptionally strong all star ensemble cast –Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C.Reilly- who grant the film all the tension of a tightly coiled spring.
The drama unfolds in real time one afternoon when Alan and Nancy (Waltz and Winslet) visit Penelope and Michael’s (Foster and Reilly) apartment and the disapproval each couple has of the other is apparent from the very opening dialogue. Still, they continue in a faux display of tolerance and understanding consuming coffee, apple and pear cobbler and eventually-when the fireworks ignite-eighteen year old malt whisky. The dialogue is excellently paced and each cast member excels in their role- Foster’s tight lipped Penelope however probably edges in with the best performance when the camera focuses on the back of her head as she marches wordlessly through her apartment and her anger is palpable-as each one gives the other space to develop their characters.
Along the way there are dissections of social status, parenting, morality and responsibility with each situation interrupted and punctuated by Alan’s incessant buzzing phone which only ratchets up the tension further, There is also a hilarious vomiting scene which takes the drama into a completely new area and unleashes a whole further set of resentments and a torrent of barbed trade offs.
Polanski works wonders with this re-fashioning of a great script and it is probably the sharpest observation on social awkwardness and simmering tension since Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigails Party’. At the films dénouement it becomes clear that the schoolboy battle which took place in the park is nothing in comparison to the supposedly civilised one which unfolds in an upscale apartment by so-called responsible adults. Superb!