Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) are visited by another couple, the Cowans (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) aggrieved that the Longstreets’ son has injured their own in a fight. Out of this innocuous if awkward set-up, all sorts of emotional carnage ensues. Soon the bohemian Longstreets are not only clashing with the morals and mores of the city-smart Cowans – both couples are in meltdown and knocking the emotional hell out of each other.
Anyone who’s seen Reza’s stage play The God of Carnage will know what to expect. Or her more popular production, Art. Relationships explode with pent up differences. On stage the emotional fireworks are reflected in every actor’s face and you can choose which one you watch. But here Polanski’s camera defines its own point of view – and yours, immediately sapping the sassiness of the set-up.
Foibles take on demonic proportions in the hot-house atmosphere. Waltz’s irritating habit of taking mobile phone calls, Winslet’s projectile vomiting, Foster’s screechy-preachy moralist… these folk are dislikeable, on purpose. So spending 80 minutes with them – usually too short when you’ve paid nearly a tenner for a ticket – here seems far too long.
Contrivances pile up to keep the protagonists together. A reverse Waiting for Godot - where someone never arrives – here the visitors never leave. Reaching the door and even the corridor, the conversation then continues luring the foursome back into the flat for another round of humiliation.
If this sounds like fun, then check it out. All four performances are on-the-note - particularly the firecracker turns from Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet. Otherwise, this is a redundant swiz of a film.
Then it ends. Mercifully you might say. But it just ends. A symbolic reference to the never-ending spiral of man’s self-destructiveness? Perhaps. Or just a big fat cop-out true to the pointlessness of the film.