In Roman Polanski's adaptation of Yasmina Reza's hit play, posh pair Alan and Nancy (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet) come to the home of wholesaler Michael (John C. Reilly) and crunchy author Penelope (Jodie Foster) to discuss how to deal with the fact that the former couple's son hit the latter couple's son in the face with a stick. Artificial politesse gives way to passive aggression, which gives way to aggressive aggression. A real-time, hell-is-other-people endurance test set, with the exception of two framing shots, entirely within the stuffy space of an upper-middle-class urban apartment, Carnage was filmed six months after Polanski's release from house arrest in 2010. The director hardly skirts the available parallels. Carnage begins with the boys' altercation, an incident that Polanski shoots from such a far remove that we cannot know what motivated it or have any sense of context. The film that follows consists of outsiders with personal motives debating blame for an incident they did not witness and, it's implied, cannot really understand. But for all its apparent analogies to Polanski's life, Carnage feels like an impersonal exercise, and its study of the rotten underbelly of "polite" social interaction is completely transparent. From the early moment when Foster breaks the facade of niceties by responding to Waltz's insincere pleasantry ("At least we got a new recipe out of [the meeting]") with an unrestrained shot ("Wish our son didn't have to lose two teeth in the process"), there's no question where this is headed.
No time to apologize: Waltz and Winslet.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 13. Rated R. 80 minutes.