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'Carnage' In The Smart Set, And Self-Inflicted, Too

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'Carnage' In The Smart Set, And Self-Inflicted, Too

Arts & Life

'Carnage' In The Smart Set, And Self-Inflicted, Too

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In the new movie comedy, "Carnage," two couples meet to discuss a playground fight between their sons. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play the parents of the boy who was hurt. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play the parents of the boy who did the hurting.

All four have either won Oscars or been nominated for them, so our movie critic Bob Mondello says, let the carnage begin.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's all very civilized at first.


JODIE FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) January 11th at 2:30 p.m. - you'll do your statements after me, this one's ours.

MONDELLO: Four civilized New Yorkers calmly discussing the uncivilized behavior of their kids.


FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) Following a verbal dispute in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Zachary Cowan, age 11 and armed with a stick, struck our son, Ethan Longstreet, in the face.

JOHN C. REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) Armed?

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) You don't like armed? Michael, what could we say? Carrying a - holding - carrying a stick. All right?

REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) Carrying. Yeah. Carrying a stick.

MONDELLO: See? Entirely civil, even though Zachary's folks are a power couple, an investment banker and a corporate lawyer; while Ethan's are bleeding hearts, a liberal writer and a wholesaler. As one of them says at one point, we are all decent people. If only the kids could get along so well, which is what investment banker mom soon proposes to liberal writer mom.


KATE WINSLET: (as Nancy Cowan) I'll come over to your place at 7:30 with Zachary and we'll just let them talk it through. You don't seem convinced.

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) If Zachary hasn't acquired any accountability skills, they'll just glare at each other and it'll be a disaster.

CHRISTOPH WALTZ: (as Alan Cowan) Accountability skills, Mrs. Longstreet, what are you talking about?

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) I'm sure your son is not a maniac.

WINSLET: (as Nancy Cowan) Zachary is not a maniac.

WALTZ: (as Alan Cowan) Yes, he is.

WINSLET: (as Nancy Cowan) Alan, don't be an idiot. Why are you saying that?

WALTZ: (as Alan Cowan) He's a maniac.

REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) How does he explain what he did?

WINSLET: (as Nancy Cowan) He won't talk about it.

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) Well, he should. He should talk about it.

WALTZ: (as Alan Cowan) Well, that's a lot of shoulds, Mrs. Longstreet. He should come here. He should talk about it. He should feel sorry. You know, I'm sure you're much more evolved than we are. We're trying to get up to speed, but in the meantime, try to indulge us.

MONDELLO: Aha, so that's where Zachary gets his temper. Maybe he is a maniac swinging sticks at innocent kids. The thing is, every time you decide you've got a handle on who's what and how that must have influenced the boys, the script throws you a curve.


REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) Do you know what they were arguing about? Because Ethan won't say a word.

WINSLET: (as Nancy Cowan) Ethan wouldn't let Zachary be a part of his gang.

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) Ethan has a gang?

WALTZ: (as Alan Cowan) And he called him a snitch.

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) Did you know that Ethan had a gang?

REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) No. But I'm thrilled to hear it.

FOSTER: (as Penelope Longstreet) Why are you thrilled?

REILLY: (as Michael Longstreet) Because I had one.

MONDELLO: On Broadway, Yasmina Reza's comedy was called "God of Carnage" and was widely regarded as very funny, very efficient, four characters, one set, and very lightweight. It seemed a fine place to watch stars behaving badly if you couldn't find a revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" somewhere.

Here, the lightness is amplified by the fact that stage unities are still being observed. One plot arc, one locale, one day. Director Roman Polanski has always been good at ratcheting up pressure with that kind of compression, everything happening on a yacht in "Knife in the Water," for instance, or in an apartment in "Rosemary's Baby."

And since he filmed "Carnage" shortly after being released from 10 months of house arrest in Switzerland, it may have seemed second nature to restrict his cast almost entirely to a living room. But it does mean you're always aware you're watching filmed theatre, a scripted pressure cooker where playability is being allowed to trump plausibility as theoretically cultivated adults morph into savages, civility to "Carnage" in 80 minutes flat.

I'm Bob Mondello.



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