Blu-ray Review: Carnage

STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski | CAST: Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 3/20/2011 | PRICE: DVD $30.99, Blu-ray $35.99
BONUSES: actor interview, Q&A with John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, red carpet footage
SPECS: R | 80 min. | Comedy drama | aspect ratio | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and French subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

In Carnage, Roman Polanski’s (Cul-de-sac) film adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s 2006 comedy of ill manners Gods of Carnage, four actors get down to business within the confines of an apartment, one of the filmmaker’s favorite locations. As he’s shown in Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, Polanski is at his unnerving best when his films’ action and emotion unfold in a closed-off setting. Such is the case with Carnage, which is a tight little piece that, though far from his best, confirms its maker’s masterful use of camera placement and staging for maximum effect. When indoors, Polanksi is the all-knowing eye who likes to take his players—and audience—and bang them up against the wall every so often, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

Carnage movie scene

Kate Winslet gets put through the ringer in Carnage.

Written for the screen by Polanski and Reza, Carnage finds two married couples—middle-class, liberal-leaning Jodie Foster (The Beaver) and John C. Reilly (Cyrus) and well-appointed professionals Kate Winslet (Contagion) and Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet)—meeting in the former’s Brooklyn apartment to discuss a playground fight involving their school-age boys. The idea of civilized behavior dictates that the two couples discuss the event and injury of Foster and Reilly’s boy. It all starts off nicely enough, the two very different couples conducting themselves maturely and letting their slightly guarded feelings be known known. But it doesn’t take too long for the respect they offer each other to come off as feigned and for the talk to distintegrate into frustration, anger and feelings of resent towards each other. A welcome bottle of vintage scotch only fuels the fire and prompts the rise of even more bile (along with the undigested contents of one of the quartet’s stomachs).

The players are all excellent as they take navigate the apartment and its outer hallway, almost leaving at several points but always being dragged back for more. Each character is well-defined by his or her dialogue—indeed, Carnage is more about character than it is story, with the fight between the boys acting as more a take-off point than a narrative begging for resolution. The wordplay is engaging if not overly clever, revealing the philosophical, economic and social differences between the two couples. The contrasts are heightened and sharply visualized, again, through Polanki’s careful camera movement and placement. It’s not used for urban paranoia this time around (as in his earlier apartment films), but rather as an accentuation of the sharp angles and distances that are firmly in place between the pair of marrieds. It’s a carefully choreographed dance that works well for Carnage‘s brief 80-minute running time.

The Blu-ray’s high-definition picture is excellent—well-colored, realistic and detailed. The audio quality is also quite fine, with the dialogue front and center, a necessity for a modern chamber piece that’s all about the words. The sound is at its most subtlely effective when an occasional off-screen audio flourish can be heard–the sound of an elevated train in the distance, an elevator door opening in the hallway. Everyday mechanics surround the four predators as they circle each other.

The bonus features are a bit of a disappointment. The ten-minute featurette “Actors’ Notes” offers the players talking about the production and praising their director. Foster is the most comfortable and clever here, most notably when she reasons that the funniest parts of the script are best played by actors who aren’t trying to make them funny.

There’s also a too-long moderated film festival chat with John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz, who can also be seen in some red carpet footage from the L.A. premiere.  Production designer Dean Tavoularis is also on hand for the premiere, while Winslet and Foster are conspicuously absent, as is, of course, Polanski.

It’s disappointing that Polanski isn’t included in any of the digital supplements, particularly as he was all over the extras of his last three—The Ghost Writer, Oliver Twist and The Pianist. What’s the problem? And was Yasmina Reza busy, too?

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.