In Carnage, Roman Polanski’s airless, atonal adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s ruthless Broadway hit comedy God of Carnage, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play the Longstreets, progressive parents of a boy hurt in a playground fight. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play the Cowans, type A parents of the boy who did the hurting. And in the beginning of this self-consciously chic cocktail canapé of a story (in limited release Dec. 16), the Cowans pay a conciliatory call on behalf of their kid at the Longstreets’ tasteful Brooklyn home.
The playwright rigs the machinery so that the veneer of civility erodes quickly, revealing the four adults as arbitrary savages. The filmmaker, meanwhile, adds his own dollop of claustrophobia and insularity, shooting at odd angles and creating a strange feeling of dispassion best described as an imaginary Euro-Brooklyn of the soul. In such an audience stroker, where casting is everything (on Broadway, James Gandolfini brought exciting menace to the role of Mr. Longstreet), Winslet and Waltz jell while Foster and Reilly flounder, unable to make sense of what kind of people they’re supposed to be. They’re not to blame: No one makes sense in Reza’s world of glittering mockery. C+