I’ve been listening to a lot of Podcasts at work lately but I don’t like to listen to the grown-up ones. I tend to listen on my way to and from work and during the quieter times in the office. So, they need to be light and not distract me from what I’m doing. Obviously, film podcasts are up there for my listening pleasure and I’ve just started getting into a new one. I plan on talking about that in-depth later this week but, for now, a recent episode has inspired me for this TBT post. In one episode, Nish Kumar (British comedian interested in politics and social commentary. Also, one of my weird comedy crushes but enough of that) was talking about how he can’t watch Woody Allen movies any more. And I get it. I’ve read Dylan Farrow’s letter and I get it. The allegations prove that Allen is not a nice man but how far do we tie up a person with their art? Do the awful things he’s done suddenly mean that Annie Hall isn’t a good film? It’s a question I’ve continually asked myself and I have no answer. But it came to my mind when I decided to finally watch Carnage this week. I’d forgotten who directed it so when the name Roman Polanski came up on the screen I paused the film. Ultimately, I decided that watching the film wasn’t me letting him off. But I still felt weird about it. But this isn’t the place to get into this.
Way back in 2014 I reviewed Herman Koch’s The Dinner after hearing so many people hyping it up. Four adults go out for a fancy dinner to discuss an awful event that occurred involving their two children. It seemed that everywhere I looked people were jizzing all over the awful twist that came towards the end of the novel. So, I had to check it out. And I hated it. Everyone who was describing it as a massively tense four-hander must have been reading a completely different book. The Dinner was anything but tense. It was self-indulgent, pretentious, and clichéd. Why am I banging on about it here? Because I’m pretty sure that The Dinner is the reason it took me until 2019 to watch Carnage. I was planning on seeing it when it was released but I was well into my Postgraduate degree and didn’t exactly have as much downtime as I’d have liked. So, I meant to watch it at some point but, post-2014, all I could remember was how much The Dinner had let me down.
Because there are a lot of similarities between the Roman Polanski film and Herman Koch’s book. The film was based on the Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage. The French playwright worked on the screenplay with Polanski to adapt the story for the big screen. The film introduces us to two sets of parents who come together to try to resolve an incident between their two sons in a civilised manner. After one boy hits the other in the face with a stick, these middle-class parents have a meeting to try and sort it all out. It starts off as a polite and held back get-together until everything falls apart and immaturity of these adults comes to the surface. Tensions run high and bitter secrets come to the surface as masks slip. Thankfully, there’s no massive twist this time. It’s just four great actors coming together to do what they do best.
And, to be honest, that’s the best reason to keep watching. This is foursome who are all wonderful at what they do. John C Reilly and Jodie Foster play the parents of the victim. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are their more confident and socially superior counterparts. Foster playing the thin-lipped liberal who writes books about Africa and keeps art books on her coffee table. Reilly is her country-bumpkin-ish husband who is forced into the role she gave him. Winslet is sensational as the buttoned-up investment banker who hides her true feelings to keep up appearances. Finally, Waltz is the distracted and cold-hearted lawyer who prefers to be fighting over legal matters than worrying about his son. The two female leads are the absolute stand-outs in this film but all four come together brilliantly.
And Polanski does good things with the film. It’s very close and suffocating. Aside from the very first and the final scene of the film, the action never leaves the New York apartment setting. You get the feeling it would be much more effective on the stage but you still get that sense of intimacy and closeness here. The camera stays very close to the action and you see the up-close changes in attitude from these four characters. Everything is beautifully orchestrated and Polanski keeps a tight hold of the ship. Yes, there are flaws but this is a fantastic study into human nature. It is the perfect vehicle for its stars and is a compelling yet horrifying story to watch unfold. It more than makes up for that god awful book.