'Carnage' In The Smart Set, And Self-Inflicted, Too Two Manhattan couples discover the limits of civility after their sons come to blows in a city park. Roman Polanski's black comedy, based on Yasmina Reza's play, serves up a series of curve balls as the four discover their inner animals.
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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

Review

Arts & Life

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

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARNAGE")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARNAGE")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARNAGE")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARNAGE")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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