Short but definitely not sweet,  Roman Polanski’s Carnage makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is a theatre piece (It is a screen adaptation of the  successful play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza).

The only outdoor scenes are two brief opening and closing shots of children playing. In the first, one boy strikes another with a stick. In the second the pair seem to be the best of friends again.

In between the two sets of concerned parents meet to discuss the act of violence between their sons in a rational, adult manner.   The two couples, the Longstreets and the Cohens, are well off, well educated individuals who are superficially polite and accommodating but the more reasonable they try to be to each other the worse the dispute gets.

Polanski, having assembled a first rate cast, has to do little more than point the camera. Kate Winslet (Nancy), Christoph Waltz (Alan), Jodie Foster (Penelope), and John C. Reilly (Michael) are all excellent with Waltz, ironically coming across as the most honest because he never makes any pretence of being anything other than selfish and immoral.

To help get the mood of cloying claustrophobia, the movie was shot in real time with the actors under strict instructions to stay on set the whole time. The tension builds gradually until, by the end,  the gloves are well and truly off  as they tear into one another and reveal their true colours. The most memorable scene is when Nancy vomits spectacularly over Penelope’s precious art books.

Ostensibly it is a comedy of manners, but it also presents a sobering and downright pessimistic perspective on human nature and the limits of political correctness. I enjoyed it but it’s a movie that made me squirm rather than laugh.

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