The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza has been a multi-award winning play in London, Broadway and it’s hometown, Paris. This is more often than not a damning legacy for a film to live up to, especially when the screenplay deviates so little from the source material. The film is set entirely in a New York apartment, with green screens for windows (or maybe they were supposed to be views over New York…) Two couples, The Cowans (Winslet and Waltz) and The Longstreets (Foster and Reilly) meet at the Longstreet’s house, where they have come to resolve a fight between their children. The conversation descends – in a somewhat theatrical manner – into complete chaos; relationships come into question, morals, ethics and existential angst fly all over the place. Carnage.
The press release for Carnage boasts how the play so adeptly leaps from drama to comedy and back again. But this film feels so much more at home in the realms of comedy than it does high drama. Farcical comedy thrives on the limitation of locations and this is no exception. The performances are truly hilarious and the timing of main comedic sequence is flawless. But the drama; that bit in the play where the neurotic woman screams at her husband and the whole theatre falls dead silent and the hair stands up on the backs of people’s necks? Frankly, on screen, that feels way too easy. Very underwhelming.
The refrain from Kate Winslet’s character throughout the film is “What are we still doing here?” On stage, that’s a conceit. They’re still there because it’s a play. This, we accept. On screen, I agree! What the hell are you doing here!? Are you only stuck in this tiny fake apartment because your director isn’t allowed into America? There’s nothing wrong with using one location. Buried was pretty good, Le Diner De Cons is fantastic. It’s the dialogue. It belongs on stage. Though occasionally coming through as stylized, it generally sounds hammy and awkward.
But really, I would call this film a comedy, in which case, it’s a screamer. Laugh out loud gross-out humour and observational wit together in perfect harmony. It’s just so frustrating that it feels like watching a fantastic play, without any of the visceral atmosphere of actually being in the theatre. The performances would be great, on stage. The pace, pathos comedy and conflict would be captivating, on stage! But it’s not on stage. So instead, it just feels lazy. That said, I’m giving it four stars, because it was damn funny.