One movie you won’t find in the Avenue’s Top 10 of 2011 is The Help, which was released on 28 December and is therefore eligible for appearing in the 2012 list (where it’ll face some tough competition: it’s week 1 and we already have a Cronenberg and Kaurismäki released in the local cinemaplex). In the next update you’ll find out the top 10 (n°1 is easy, finding the right balance between the nrs 2 to 5 will be tougher), but today you’ll read why Carnage is not on the number 1 spot.
Make no mistake, Carnage is a good film. Roman Polanski is a great director and he shows that here from time to time. Carnage is about a couple who come to say sorry to the parents of a boy: their son knocked out two of the other boy’s teeth. Apologetic as they may try to seem, there’s also a crisis in the real world (the father of the ‘culprit’ is the lawyer of a pharmaceutical firm and news has just leaked out that their medicine isn’t exactly harmless). At one point, another phonecall disrupts the conversation once again and while we watch him (Christoph Waltz) talking in the background, we see the impatient hand of his wife (Kate Winslet) tapping on the sofa in the front of our screen. That is the definition of a great shot, everyone, and Polanski – who briefly cameos as the neighbour – is a great director.
So the director is good, did the story suck? No, not in the least. The parents of the “culprit” have a tough time apologizing as the parents of the “victim” (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster) are not exactly their cup of tea. And it doesn’t take long before the smooth lawyer and the art writer of a book on Darfur (Foster) are driving each other insane. There’s a subtle hint that she’s a former alcoholic, but this isn’t fact-checked in the film. (Again, why should every detail always be explained?) And while this may give you a chance to feel more sympathetic towards Reilly and Winslet, they’ll lose your sympathy before too long as well. Note how this forced conversation plays with etiquette codes (just watch their use of first names, last names and nicknames) and enjoy the film even more.
So the director is good, the screenplay is good and the actors are good… why isn’t this the film of 2011 then? Because the film was written by Yasmina Reza and it was based on her play Le Dieu de Carnage. And this film is very much a film version of a play. Is that bad? No, but throughout the film I wanted to see the reactions of the other people while someone was having a dialogue or monologue and here – by definition as it’s a film (unless you count experiments like Timecode by Figgis) – you’re bound to watch what’s happening through the vision of the director. In a way this is odd, given that it’s been ages since I last saw a play (the last two involved spitting and cutting each other and an overbearing sense of “look at me, I’ve studied art), but I genuinely I felt during the film I’d enjoyed this more in the theatre. Add the same director and actors and you’re watching one of the best plays of the year. Then again, given the sheer amount of pretentious garbage that’s often domineering the theatres, a lot of people wouldn’t have discovered Reza’s play because they were still paying their psychiatris to get over that trauma of the last play where that actor took a dump on another actor’s face (agreed, I made this up, but I’m sure somewhere in the world this will have happened on a stage as an astute metaphor of how we’re dealing with the environment).
Looking at the Wikipedia page, it looks as if the play has already had its fair share of good casts, but Polanski assembled maybe the best version. But most of the credit should go to Yasmina Reza, so we’ll name her again. (However, I found a review that mentioned the film adaptation upstaged the Broadway version, so I thought I’d just mentioned that as well.)
One thing is definitely wrong about the film and that’s the ending. Sure, it may have been tough to find an ending for this piece, but the way Carnage ends seems like Polanski didn’t even care about a finale. (A possible suggestion: what if the film ended with the exact moment, only with a shot where the camera zoomed out and retreated, as if we’d also given up on these four people? Anyway, that’s all for today’s edition of “Let’s play Polanski”.)
And this is the moment where I try to finish the review, but maybe we’ll take Polanski’s lead and end it now.