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Guest Review: ‘Carnage’

Latest From Roman Polanski

Above: John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet

Can guest reviewer Pat Finn see past her dislike of director Roman Polanski to appreciate his adaptation of the play "Carnage" (currently playing at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas)?

I’ve pretty much avoided the films of Roman Polanski, with the exception of “Chinatown.” I know critics – Europeans, especially -- think he’s wonderful. But my general reaction to his name was a sort of an indifferent ill-will, if there is such a thing. That is, until he got arrested in Switzerland not long ago. That’s when Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times excerpted the grand jury testimony from Polanski’s old rape case in his column. Ill-will turned into revulsion.

I mention this so when I say that Polanski’s latest, “Carnage,” playing at the Landmark Hillcrest, is a little gem, and you ought to see it PDQ, you know I mean it.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s play “The God of Carnage,” the entire story plays out in the homey Brooklyn co-op of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), a “writer” and hardware salesman, respectively. Their son Ethan’s teeth have been knocked out by Zachary, the son of power couple Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz). He’s an attorney; she’s -- who knows?

All four are at the Longstreets’ to politely mediate among themselves, to handle the situation as civilized human beings and avoid lawsuits, recriminations and yelling. Alas for good intentions.

Everyone is eager to come to a resolution, but unwilling to concede the high ground. As they thrust and parry, the little sarcasms begin to strike home. Jaws clench; offense is taken; astonishment is expressed. As the meeting goes on for what seems like days, the arrows of insult get sharper and fall faster. Alan’s cell phone practically becomes a character in the drama. Alcohol is swilled. Everyone gets blind drunk. Alliances form, disintegrate and re-form. Penelope devolves from tightly wound to completely nuts. Nancy gets sick all over the art books.

Foster and Waltz are magnificent. We begin to see that Penelope, struggling to contain her sense of injury and moral righteousness, can barely hold herself together at the best of times. Although it’s her son who was attacked, she earns no sympathy at all. Waltz’s Alan -- distant, arrogant and witty -- somehow manages to become almost likable when he goads Penelope and watches the result with drunken amusement. Hard to do.

“Carnage” has the claustrophobic feeling of a play made into a movie, but that only enhances the experience of watching these four go at each other in a confined space. It’s shocking and entertaining at once.

Very much worth seeing, no matter who made it.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 28, 2012 at 11:56 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

I appreciate that the reviewer is able to see past pre-conceived bias against the director and evaluate the film on its own merits.

I plan on seeing this one.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 31, 2012 at 8:42 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Maybe Foster is a sucker for destructive and self-destructive men (Polanski, Gibson)?

I can totally sympathize with what you express here. Were it not for the fact that few even remember, I think it would make total sense for a group of concerned mothers to organize boycotts of his films. I mean, afterall, gay groups boycott Gibson's films, don't they? And what to say of the actors working with Polanski! From Winters and Adjani in 1976 to the cast of CARNAGE today? I just wonder how far they take their moral relativism? Some of these actors are well known liberals with a capital "L" like Winters , Sig Weaver and Depp, but what about the apolitical Ford who also worked with Polanski? How to explain him?

I've been personally torn myself although I did see some of his films, the adaptation of Dorfmann's DEATH AND THE MAIDEN being the better one. But now as an older man, I 've thought more about it. I refused to see GHOST WRITER, but now CARNAGE, I don't know.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 31, 2012 at 8:43 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

PS: I wouldn't be so harsh if he hadn't been such a coward in the first place.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | January 31, 2012 at 3:16 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Mission Accomplished: And what shall we do about Woody Allen's films?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 1, 2012 at 9:14 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Very good point! Not an Allen fan so I'm not too (pun inteded) like Polanski? Or is it just bad judgment with him?

I did get around to see the entertaining MIDNIGHT IN PARIS,however, but it was my first Allen film in a long, long time.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | February 3, 2012 at 2:54 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Since Polanski's critics dominate this thread I'd like to suggest people watch the documentary POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED to be reminded of some alternate points of view.

Polanski did plead guilty to “unlawful intercourse” with a minor in exchange for the other (and some more serious) charges being dismissed. Judge Laurence Rittenband sent the filmmaker to prison for a 90-day diagnostic evaluation. Polanski spent 42 days in prison undergoing psychiatric tests and prison officials advised the judge that testing indicated his sentence should not include additional prison time. So Polanski plead guilty with the understanding that he would receive a sentence of time served. You may not think this is fair punishment but it was what all sides agreed to. But after agreeing Judge Rittenband decided to ignore the plea bargain and said he wanted to send Polanski to jail. Polanski did go through a legal process and only fled when it looked like the judge was going to renege on the plea bargain.

Polanski's probation report said he was profoundly affected by the brutal murder of his wife, actress Sharon Tate by the Manson Family. It was also noted that the director's parents were victims of the Holocaust and that he had been imprisoned in Auschwitz by the Nazis during the World War II. While the American press is quick to condemn Polanski, it rarely points out that Rittenband violated the ethics code during the case and it rarely criticizes the girl's mother for leaving her daughter in such a vulnerable position. (So MISSIONACCOMPLISHED's notion of concerned mothers boycotting Polanski's films is ironic since it was the lack of a concerned mother that helped facilitate the crime.) None of this is meant to condone what Polanski did but to put it in a context and to suggest that perhaps it is not as black and white an issue as it may seem.

GHOST WRITER is an interesting film because Polanski indirectly explores some of his own feelings about how he was treated by the media through the characters in his film. And I do think there should be a way to consider a work of art as separate from the artist. Polanski is a flawed human being but he is also a great filmmaker.

As for Woody Allen, he may not have displayed admirable behavior in his personal relationships but he committed no crime in marrying the adopted adult daughter of his then girlfriend (he and Mia Farrow were never married and he is not related by blood to Soon Yi). This seems a private matter and while it might color one's judgment of who he is I hope no one is suggesting a boycott of his movies simply because you disapprove of him having an affair and then marrying a woman more than 30 years younger than him.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | February 4, 2012 at 11:26 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

First of all, Woody Allen. Not suggesting a boycott. Just saying that when his name comes up, my first reaction is "yuck." Soon-Yi might have been an adult and adopted. But she was regarded by everyone else in that large household as his daughter. So, yuck.

As for Polanski, 42 days in jail for repeatedly raping a drugged 13 year-old, left there by her mother (as Lopez points out), is quite the plea bargain. Here's his column:

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