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Review: Carnage

Pleasantries are exchanged, food is offered, smiles are forced, secret resentments are harbored. No, this isn't an awards ceremony, this is a reconciling between the Longstreets and the Cowans. A school yard incident between their sons turns a meeting between parents in a New York City apartment into a summit of every conflict in the entire world.
Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) are the respective mothers of Ethan and Zachary. Zachary knocked out two of Ethan's teeth and rather than take things to court, these two couples are trying to handle things civilly. Tempers are near flaring, but Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) is trying to keep everything at an even-keel without pissing off the Cowans or his wife.  However, everyone is irritated that Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) doesn't bother to express any feelings at all. He is more concerned with Walter's news that there could be a potential lawsuit against his company.

An amicable sit-down turns vicious very quickly when conversation turns from their children to their careers, personal beliefs, and fears. At first the divisions are decided by couples, sex, religious views, politics, etc. Each argument prompted by the pauses are decidedly more strange and out of left-field. Vomiting, destruction of property and ideals are commonplace for this meeting of monsters. Every call by Walter resets the main players against each other, and the race to the bottom for the Longstreets and Cowans begins.

Changing the film's name from God of Carnage to Carnage was a curious choice as one questions during the repeated arguments why one of these couples doesn't simply leave. Whether or not they actually want to avoid this discord is entirely up to the audience.

Out of the main four players, Mr. Waltz comes out the winner of the bunch. Alan is initially judged as the worst of the parents when they meet, but very quickly it becomes apparent that Alan Cowan may be the most reasonable of them all. As Foster, Winslet and Reilly completely collapse under the weight of the situation, there is a perverse sense of delight to be had watching them. Grown adults tearing each other down for sport whilst claiming to hold the moral high-ground over two teenage boys who got into an altercation.

As fun as watching adults behaving badly is, Carnage is not a terribly cinematic adaptation. The story does not lend itself to any intriguing shots and the digs of Penelope and Michael Longstreet are as dull and conventional as every other penthouse in upper-class NYC. The cast lacks an upgrade over the original Broadway rendition and the script is again authored by Yasmina Reza. Perhaps Carnage should have remained a stage play, or at the very least set their sights higher.

**1/2 out of ****

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