Polanski loves apartments: Repulsion (his first English-language film, in which the walls literally close in on Catherine Deneuve), Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant are informally known as "the apartment trilogy".
Little wonder then that his attention was seized by God of Carnage, by French playwright Yasmina Reza, which had successful runs in the West End and on Broadway. Confined to a single apartment, it also unfolds in real time; there is no ellipsis or change of scene.
The potential for an intense theatrical experience is obvious and that's precisely what Carnage delivers, which is simultaneously its virtue and its defect.
The problem is that plays aren't written with the close-up in mind. When fillmic techniques are brought to bear on Reza's tight and tiny play, we are constantly dragged out of the action and into individual characters' perspectives on it; it's as if our spectating is done for us and it fatally dilutes the drama, rather than concentrating it.
The play's story, minimally adjusted for its New York setting, is simple enough: Alan and Nancy Cowan (Waltz and Winslet) are at the apartment of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (Reilly and Foster) to discuss an incident in a Brooklyn park in which the Cowans' son has belted the Longstreets'. Teeth have been broken; the thirst for vengeance is barely contained.
Unlike the parents, we witness the incident in a prologue scene and although we do not hear what is said, we can see it's kids' stuff. But when the adults start taking, what happened hardly matters. The physical damage can be taken care of by insurance; the business of the play is the metaphysical carnage wrought by the two couples.
The drama in which middle-class pieties gradually turn corrosive is very well discharged by four actors who know how to hit their marks. Carnage tries to dig deeper into the human condition and comes up alarmingly empty-handed.
Cast: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz
Director: Roman Polanski
Running time: 79 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Less than meets the eye