Thats not to say Carnage, scheduled to open Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, will split moviegoers sides. As befitting of a film spawned from a Tony-winning play about four bickering New Yorkers in one room, most of its wit operates on a cerebral level.
Stemming from a disagreement between their sons that left one minus two teeth, Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet, Contagion, and Christoph Waltz, Water for Elephants) visit the apartment of Pen and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster, The Beaver, and John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids) to smooth things over.
Yet, just as Pen commends the group for choosing a sense of community over that adversarial mindset, good intentions collapse into serrated shards. The couples begin quarreling, and within 80 minutes, even the pairs have fractured from the influence of alcohol.
From the films first line, its stage roots show. Dialogue among the actors is almost all small talk: hamsters, gingerbread crumbs atop cobbler, the ability of Coca-Cola to assuage nausea, blood-pressure medication and suffering in Africa. Its only near the end that each characters true self emerges to address the other elephants in the room.
All four play their parts well.
Waltzs pharmaceutical attorney is shrewdly elitist opposite Winslets icy investment broker with a sour stomach. Foster practices passive-aggressiveness before bursting, while Reillys average-Joe seller of pots, pans, door handles, flush mechanisms and other stuff seems befuddled by all the hullabaloo.
Amusing but slight, Carnage appears to exist as an opportunity for the ensemble three Oscar winners and one nominee to act with a capital A.
But what, then, is the challenge for someone as gifted as Polanski? Splendid score by Alexandre Desplat (The Tree of Life) notwithstanding, nothing about the piece is particularly cinematic post-translation, and with the limited setting, theres little room for him or any filmmaker to screw up. Perhaps after tackling something as rich and dense as 2010s underseen The Ghost Writer, the small scale simply appealed to him.
It can to you, too, provided one is primed for a study of manners in which the punch lines aim for an internal response. For example, Waltz gets the greatest one: It is.