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Carnage

Year: 2012
Production Co: ICM Partners
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Roman Polanski/Yasmina Reza
Cast: Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz

Carnage is a stageplay-style actor's piece about the nuances of polite communication (and the lines where we cross it) between adults.

During the credits sequence, we see a group of teenage boys arguing and taunting each other. One hits the other in the face with a stick, and we cut to a pleasant New York apartment where their amiable parents Penelope (Foster), Michael (Reilly), Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) are discussing how to handle the boys' behaviour.

Penelope and Michael are blue collar types, eager to be friendly, offering cake and convinced the four can put things behind them. Nancy and Alan are a high powered couple, obviously too busy to really want to be there but enduring the procedure as best they can.

The plot turns on the smallest of words or gestures about punishment, retribution or responsibility for the fight, and the genteel atmosphere gradually crumbles. Alan keeps taking calls from work, which drives his wife crazy, and it soon becomes apparent Michael doesn't believe any of the politically correct psychobabble they're all discussing about their children.

Alliances between the four shift and turn, the hatred at the core of each marriage spills forth as the good Scotch is bought out and tempers for each other, their marriages and the whole process flare.

The funniest scene is the final one, of the boys having forgotten the fight and made friends again while their 'civilised' parents upstairs have been at each others' throats, vomited all over a precious book collection, demolished a cake, thrown a phone into a vase full of water and various other childlike behaviours.

It's a fable about how ridiculous we can be both as grown-ups intent on talking everything out and the social mores of modern life. Each actor makes mincemeat out of his or her part (and it's great to see Reilly returning to the kind of movie that made his name early on in P T Anderson's films) and has a great time. It's knowing, well crafted, wry and hilarious.

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