Carnage review: Roman Polanski presents the parents from hell

Cruel, childish and self-righteous… Roman Polanski presents the parents from hell in Carnage

Carnage (15)

Verdict: Great acting, sparky satire

Carnage is one of the funniest and most intelligent films of the year so far. It is also joyously subversive of political correctness. The only explanation why this has been ignored for this year’s Oscars must be that it is very much a filmed stage play.

It’s based on Yasmina Reza’s black comedy God Of Carnage, and takes place almost entirely in real time, within one apartment. But, as in Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, director Roman Polanski shows brilliantly how character can disintegrate in a confined space.

This time, there are three people falling apart, and four fine actors deliver performances that will long stick in the mind.

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Icily polite: Kate Winslet as Nancy and, in the background, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz

Icily polite: Kate Winslet as Nancy and, in the background, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz

A bundle of suppressed fury: Jodie Foster as Penelope, a pious writer of impeccable liberalism, with John C. Reilly as her husband Michael

A bundle of suppressed fury: Jodie Foster as Penelope, a pious writer of impeccable liberalism, with John C. Reilly as her husband Michael

Jodie Foster is a bundle of suppressed fury as Penelope, a pious writer of impeccable liberalism — her forthcoming tome is about the carnage in Darfur.

She and her husband, Michael (John C. Reilly), a down-to-earth hardware salesman, have arranged a meeting with the parents of a boy who has beaten up their child, knocking out two of his teeth.

The visiting couple are Nancy, a high-flying broker (Kate Winslet) who’s icily polite and impeccably turned out, and Alan (Christoph Waltz), an amoral lawyer addicted to his mobile phone.

All four pride themselves on being civilised, fair-minded and bent on reconciliation, but they bring out the worst in each other, so that by the end — fuelled by scotch — there’s a large amount of drunken truth-telling.

Impeccably turned out: Kate Winslet as high-flying broker Nancy Cowan in Carnage

Impeccably turned out: Kate Winslet as high-flying broker Nancy Cowan in Carnage

It’s not giving too much away to say that, by that time, battle-lines have been drawn up between the sexes, and characters are delivering withering assessments of marriage, family life and each other.

Michael even dares to poke fun at his wife’s politics when she physically attacks him. ‘Talk about commitment to world peace and stability!’ he cries, warding off the blows.

Like Mike Nichols’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and Luis Bunuel’s Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, Carnage is about social courtesies degenerating into domestic mayhem.

With his final shot outside the apartment, Polanski underlines the pettiness of the characters’ behaviour. But all the way through you’ll have been laughing at their childishness, casual cruelty and ugly self-righteousness. It’s hideously accurate.