Roman Polanski’s film version of the Broadway play God of Carnage pits parents Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly against Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz after their sons get into a fight at the Brooklyn Bridge park. What starts as an awkward meeting at the apartment of Reilly and Foster (their son had two teeth knocked out in the fight), with Winslet and Waltz contrite and beleaguered, ends up a full-blown donnybrook as the couples engage in a long, silly serial judgment of each other. When liquor is introduced, for a time, the men gang up on the women, and, inevitably, the fractured marriages are exposed.
As a stage play, with the remove, this might have been better (the original cast included Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden and all four actors were nominated for a Tony). But as a film, Polanski puts us right in on the actors, and for the most part, these actors are not up to the task. John C. Reilly, as the slightly hip and groovy peacemaker, has suffered from his idiot roles in broad Will Ferrell comedies. On Broadway, his role was played by Gandolfini, who would have been better to communicate the hidden rage of a man’s man living in the p.c. world created by his wife. Reilly just seems goofy.
Reilly’s wife, Jodie Foster, gives a performance so brittle and unreal it is Razzie-worthy. Foster is the over-protective, liberal, Cry-for-Darfur, “your son must take some responsibility” mother. Foster plays her at an 11 (I was reminded of Annette Bening’s cartoonishly gruesome turn in American Beauty). She contorts her face, nears-convulsions, and so tightens and clenches her jaw that she appears to be in perpetual physical pain. Her character is so one-dimensional and unyieldingly p.c., any good jabs taken at the archetype seem cheap.
Foster is awful, but Winslet is not much better. Her role requires that she be drunk, and she is not a very convincing drunk. She is, however, a very convincing vomitor (she pukes all over the coffee table, a contrivance that forces the couples to stay in proximity as she recuperates and they clean up).
Waltz comes off the strongest, but he plays a sarcastic, droll high-powered NYC lawyer, so his contributions are less histrionic, making him more bearable.
The script has some sharp exchanges, and it points up certain base impulses bottled up by modern convention as well as the conceits of the urban affluent, but a few well-written rejoinders do not make up for the assault.