Polanski’s ‘Carnage’ survives as critics turn on Madonna’s ‘W.E’

09.02.11 6 years ago 5 Comments

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

While filmmakers, movie fans and a small contingent of press made their way to Telluride, CO for the annual Telluride Film Festival today, the world’s critics got their first taste at two of this season’s highly anticipated titles in Venice.  One film in particular will have a hard time recovering from the response.

First off, Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” featuring A-list prestige players Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly received generally favorable reviews.  An adaption of the acclaimed play “God of Carnage,” Mark Adams of Screen Daily loved the film’s performances using “perfect” in some manner or another to describe each actor’s work.  Still, the International industry trade did think the “final third…never fully convinces.” 

Veteran critic Todd McCarthy praises Polanski’s work saying it “fully delivers the laughs and savagery of the stage piece while entirely convincing as having been shot in New York, even though it was filmed in Paris for well-known reasons.” 

Awarding the picture four out of five stars, London Evening Standard critic Lee Marshall says Foster gives an “Oscar-worthy comic performance” and the picture “celebrates an old-fashioned, underrated cinematic pleasure: the chance to see an ensemble cast of fine actors sparring with each other, and at the top of their game.”  Another Brit, David Gritten of The Telegraph, was a bit mixed noting, “It’s well-acted and giddily enjoyable, if slightly less so once the characters start to analyze their descent into barbarism.”

On the other hand, Variety’s Justin Chang was mixed to negative noting, “this acid-drenched four-hander never shakes off a mannered, hermetic feel that consistently betrays its theatrical origins.”

That, however, was nothing compared to the unexpected harsh notices for Madonna’s second directorial effort, “W.E.”  A romantic drama starring Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough and Richard Coyle, the original screenplay crosscuts a modern day woman contemplating love while looking to the infamous love affair between Edward VII and Wallis Simpson for guidance.  Writing in The Guardian, Xan Brooks calls “W.E.” “a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock” and “whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternizing with Nazis – it’s doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in Madonna’s ‘W.E.”

Reviewing for Variety, Leslie Felperin says the”word on W.E.,’ Madonna’s sophomore feature about Wallis Simpson and Edward VII, was that it was better than her debut, ‘Filth and Wisdom.’ Indeed it is, though that’s not saying much: Burdened with risible dialogue and weak performances, pic doesn’t have much going for it apart from lavish production design and terrific, well-researched costumes — and it’s in focus, which is more than can be said for the script.

Providing some mixed reaction was Gritton of The Telegraph who awarded the picture three out of five stars describing it as “rather better than expected; it”s bold, confident and not without amusing moments” while still throwing in the caveat “it’s undeniably a strange concoction.”

McCarthy calls “W.E” and “odd, idiosyncratic piece,” but also “as easy on the eyes and ears as it is embalmed from any dramatic point of view.” 

It’s Geoffrey Macnab who admits that “many in Venice were anticipating (and some actively hoping) for a prize turkey along the lines of her earlier ‘Filth and Wisdom.’They’ll have been disappointed by the sheer zest and craftsmanship of ‘W.E'”

One has to wonder if Macnab’s point is exactly what’s going on here.  The idea that The Weinstein Company or any distributor would send a major release to both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals (where it will screen in about 10 days) with the chance it could receive this sort of reaction is ludicrous.  Especially when the picture isn’t arriving in theaters until December (in limited release) and its prestige campaign hinges on some sort of critical support. No doubt shocked by this initial response, The Weinstein Company is going to have to hope the Toronto critics can alleviate some of this significantly early negative buzz.  Yes, Madonna has her haters, but need they be so giddy to pounce?  Considering how some of the above mentioned reviewers have given embarrassing passes to some of their cinematic idols there might be a bit of hypocrisy going on here (not that we are advocating a pass of anyone, but you get the point).  In any event, it certainly makes “W.E.” an even bigger must see for this pundit when we journey to the Great White North.

Do you think critics can give Madonna a fair shake?  Are you encouraged by the reviews for “Carnage”?  Share your thoughts below.

Look for reviews of “The Artist” and “Albert Nobbs” tomorrow on Awards Campaign from Telluride.  You can get the latest on awards season and the fall festivals by following Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.

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