Adapting a stage play to the big screen is never an easy task, especially when it’s a self-contained story in limited locations and over a short time frame. The past few years have seen hyped cinematic incarnations of acclaimed plays such as “The History Boys” and “Doubt,” but now matter what the screenwriters and directors on each project tried to free the subject matter of its theatrical origins, each suffered the always feared critique that they still seemed more like filmed plays than movies. When it was announced Roman Polanski intended to tackle a movie version of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” (re-titled “Carnage”) that concern was raised by this pundit, especially after Polanski’s disappointing and claustrophobic turn with “Death and the Maiden” in 1994. Now, the first preview of “Carnage” has it the interwebs and, well, all is as was expected.
Set in Brooklyn, “Carnage” retains the play’s original storyline about two pairs of parents who have met to try and discuss the ramifications of one of their children hurting the other at a public park. As their long discussion wears on, however, their attempt to resolve the matter in a civilized manner disintegrates into petty and childish arguments. The play debuted in Germany, followed by a heralded London production featuring Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer and then the inevitable Broadway run which found Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden all nominated for Tony Awards (Harden won for Best Leading Actress in a Play). Polanski’s version finds Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly as one couple (Penelope and Michael) and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz as the other (Nancy and Alan).
The preview makes it clear almost the entire film occurs in Penlope and Michael’s home (danger Will Robinson), but it’s the flashes of Winslet and Foster’s performances that are the most intriguing. After almost a decade of playing somewhat closed, cold and reserved characters, Foster is finally showing a broader range than she has in sometime. It began with her own directorial effort, “The Beaver,” earlier this year and now, well, after watching this preview when’s the last time you saw Foster hit these comedic and dramatic notes? Winslet, on the other hand, is becoming this generation’s Meryl Streep able to go from one period to another with little question of authenticity. As for the gentlemen, Waltz seems to have mastered a most impressive American accent and Reilly, well, solid as always.
Sony Classics will no doubt have their own preview tailored for domestic audiences, but this teaser certainly proves the ensemble will be playing the awards season game. As for the film? That still remains to be seen. Check out the international trailer below and chime in on your own thoughts regarding Polanski’s latest.
“Carnage” will debut at the Venice Film Festival in September and then screen at the New York Film Festival in October. It will open in limited release on Dec. 16.
For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.