“Carnage” Opens New York Film Festival

Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, in "Carnage."

The opening night film for the 49th New York Film Festival, on Friday, September 30 was director Roman Polanski’s “Carnage.”  The event took place at Alice Tully Hall.  Cast members Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly were in attendance, as was playwright Yasmina Reza.

“Carnage” is the movie version of the hit Broadway play “God of Carnage,” by French playwright Reza.  I was fortunate enough to catch one of the last performances of “God of Carnage” with its original Broadway cast still in tact: James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis.  

While I was glad I saw the play performed by such a talented cast, I found myself not that enamored of the play itself.  “God of Carnage” is the type of play Edward  Albee was writing some 50 years, most famously “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The story of “God of Carnage” falls into the theatre genre of the “living room wars.” The basic set up is familiar.  A group of characters gets together and, before too long, the social niceties come down and we see what they are really like underneath.  The play did not surprise me so I was a bit lukewarm about seeing the movie.  Add to this the fact that actor John C. Reilly was in the film.  Now, I like Reilly, but in his last few films (“Cyrus,” “Cedar Rapids”) he has played characters who are tiresome, loud, over the top and way too preciously “wacky” for my taste.

I am glad to report that, despite all of my pre-screening reservations, “Carnage” was actually quite good.  In fact, “Carnage” is one of those rare instances where the story works better as a movie than it did as a play.  Reilly, perhaps heeding my concerns about his recent performances, actually plays a restrained character, the one who, for most of the film, attempts to keep the other characters under control.  As far as the story’s familiarity, yes it was there, especially since I had seen the play.  Despite this, I was able to become more involved with, and appreciate, the characters more in the movie.  While this may be overstating the obvious, I think this was due to the fact that, in a movie, you can simply get closer to the characters via closer shots, as opposed to seeing the whole production from one angle, from the rear mezzanine, as I did when I saw the play. While this may not be the case for every play that is turned into a movie, it is certainly true here.

Oddly enough though, “Carnage” is basically a photographed play.  It is not opened up much.  As in the play the story takes place, more or less, in one room.  In the theatre we understand that there are certain physical constraints and so we are more likely to accept that everything takes place in one setting.  In a film though we expect to see everything, or at least go outside, or to a different location, once in a while.

So, “Carnage” really should not work as a movie, and yet it does.  Why?  I think it is a combination of Polanski’s spirited direction, which keeps things moving at a brisk pace, plus the very fine cast which, besides Reilly, includes Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster.  Why analyze?  If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 3, 2011, in New, New York Film Festival 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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