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Carnage

When adults can't play nice together

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It's simple enough on the surface: Two well-to-do, educated couples meet to discuss a playground fight between their respective 11-year-old sons. But the discourse quickly escalates from accommodating and passively aggressive to sneering and outright vicious. Roman Polanski's dark comedy is an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's play The God of Carnage, and it's a painful but mordantly funny 75 minutes. 

The action occurs in the apartment of a writer (Jodie Foster) and hardware salesman (John C. Reilly), whose son was injured. The other parents are an investment banker (Kate Winslet) and an attorney for a pharmaceutical company (Christoph Walz). It's a four-man show, though a hamster, fruit cobbler and rare art book factor in.

Plays adapted for the screen often feel boxed in, but here Polanski makes good use of the set (a facsimile of a spacious Brooklyn apartment) and there's a good bit of movement among the actors. What feels most artificial are the narrative feints that cause what should be a five-minute discussion to devolve into a drunken, hour-plus free-for-all.

Only this isn't real life, but an illumination of bad behavior, as well-dressed civilized people become undone and grow feral. The acting is marvelous, and the pointed dialog is surprisingly naturalistic without losing any of its dramatic barb. It's one social event you wouldn't want to attend, but from this side of the screen it's pretty entertaining. Starts Fri., Jan. 13.

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