' ' Cinema Romantico: Five Points of Carnage

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Five Points of Carnage

I recently re-indulged in Roman Polanski's seemingly somewhat overlooked "Carnage" - a film about two New York couples who congregate in the wake of one of their sons "disfiguring" the other in a schoolyard fight - for the third time. My original review that appeared on AM can be found here but today I would like to offer up an additional 5 points.

1.) "Carnage", to me, and I hope this makes sense, is like Tom Petty's Greatest Hits. I'm not saying "Carnage" is the greatest movie I have ever seen but I feel as if it's the sort of movie that I can always turn to and that every time I turn to it I will be thoroughly entertained, never disappointed.

2.) "Carnage" is the funniest movie with an official release date of 2011 that I have seen. In fact, at the risk of sounding like an effete cineaste snob (so be it!), "Carnage" made me laugh far more frequently and far harder than "Bridesmaids" and "Horrible Bosses" put together. It's the truth so I must speak it.

3.) In the spirit of the number, my three favorite lines (delivered, respectively, by Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly and Waltz again) in this particular viewing...

a.) "What did you expect? Some revelation about universal values?" (Pause.) "This scotch is unbelievable."

b.) "A couple of urns jabbering away on the shores of Lake Sebago."

c.) "The truth is no one here cares. Except for Penelope. One must acknowledge her integrity."

4.) I read and heard chatter afterwards that in the case of Kate Winslet you could, as they say, see her acting, which is another way of saying her acting might have been fake. And I don't dispute that assessment because, as Foster's character says, the character herself is fake! She spends the majority of the film with this anxious veneer - always on edge that her husband (Christoph Waltz) is doing something or is about to do (or say) something stupid - in her best effort (which is fairly lousy) to be diplomatic while her husband fields cellphone calls and routinely insults their hosts with and/or without realizing he is doing so. And then in the third act, once the scotch kicks in, it comes undone and she unleashes mind vomit (as opposed to the real vomit she unleashes earlier). She's acting fake because she's supposed to be fake which is just so......real.

5.) "Carnage" is based on a play by Yasmina Reza and any time a play becomes a movie questions and theories emerge regarding the "stagy" nature of the direction, but I tend to think Polanski avoided this plague. He moved the camera with showing off but, more crucially, found many moments that took advantage of their cinematic nature.

There is a moment maybe 25 minutes in when Waltz has fielded his third or fourth or fifth, whatever, phone call and he finishes and Reilly starts pressing him with thinly veiled insults on the ethics of his line of work. Polanski and his editor Herve de Luze cut between a close-up of Reilly leaning against a door frame with a cup of coffee and a mischievous grin and a long shot of Waltz leaning against a bookcase. Reilly says Waltz has "a funny line of work." Waltz is finally, truly drawn in. He asks "What do you do?" and as he does so he assumes his own smile - less mischievous than wicked - and walks toward Reilly and the camera and into his own close-up.

Reilly: "I sell pots and pans."
Waltz: "And door handles."
Reilly: "And flush mechanisms, and lots of other stuff."
Waltz: "Flush mechanisms. I like that. That's interesting."

Then it switches to a shot with Winslet on the couch in the foreground to the right of the frame with Waltz and Reilly facing off to the right in the background. "Alan?!" she scolds. "I find that interesting," he replies, as if insulted. "Flush toilets are interesting." Now it switches between close-ups of the two men as Reilly explains the finer points of flush mechanisms.

Then the camera finds Jodie Foster, the wife of Reilly's character, on the other couch in the foreground to the left of the frame with Waltz and Reilly facing to the left in the background. She interjects, trying to turn the talk back toward the subject of the original talk, which was of the son of Waltz & Winslet seriously injuring the son of Reilly & Foster. But as she speaks the camera returns to one close-up each of Waltz & Reilly, smiling, asking, as they say, who's are the biggest?, almost as if, ahem, they have for a moment morphed into their own two sons facing off on the playground.

Could you GET that moment on a stage? I don't think so. Which is why I'm so freaking glad they made a movie out of it. Now I can buy the DVD and re-visit it whenever I want to. (Also, can I retroactively place this in my 2011 Top 10? I can?! Yay!!!)


Derek Armstrong said...

I still don't like this movie, but I like all the points you made about it, which brings me closer to liking it. (Sorry, that's the best I can do!)

Nick Prigge said...

Fair enough. No hard feelings. In some ways I'm troubled that I find such a narcissistic film so damn funny, but them's the breaks.

Andrew K. said...

Meant to leave proof of my visit earlier, but alas time.

This post made me really smile when I saw it Tuesday morning. For one, I'm always pleased by the way you manage to talk about not-so-new films without fully reviewing it or getting too pragmatic about it. All your points are solid, but #5 is a really beauty of an observation.

Good job, as always.

Nick Prigge said...

Nick: Thank you, sir. Kind words.