Carnage

Appallingly Good

Carnage; Pic Source: Wikipedia

Following a verbal dispute in Brooklyn Bridge Park, 11-year-old Zachary Cowan armed with carrying a stick strikes another 11-year-old boy, Ethan Longstreet in the face*. As responsible and involved parents who see the larger picture, the Longstreets invite the Cowans to their apartment to discuss the fight between the boys. Both sets of parents try to discuss the issue in a civilised manner for the benefit of their children. The Cowans get to the door and thank their hosts who invite them back again for coffee. You know they shouldn’t go back but they do… These are the first five minutes of Roman Polanski’s brilliant black comedy, Carnage, based on a play, God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza.

Carnage is nothing but pure display of acting, writing and directorial prowess. Adapted for screen by Reza and Polanski, the film peels away the layers of civility and etiquette that the four characters display in the first five minutes. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) appear happy and perfectly average couple who love each other and take extra interest in their children’s education. Michael has a hardware business and Penelope is a writer who is working a book on Darfur. On the other hand, the CowansNancy (Kate Winslet), a real estate agent and Alan (Cristoph Waltz), a lawyer seem financially more successful but with a strained relationship. Over the next 74-minutes the polite conversation turns venomous and they all display some shocking behaviour.

The four leading actors deliver stellar performance that is expected of artistes of their calibre. Cristoph Waltz however shines as a workaholic and rude man, whose phone keeps buzzing, annoying not only the other three on-screen but the audience that’s watching as well. Kate Winslet brings out maniacal energy on screen and shocks the most with her actions. The other characters who only appear as phone voices also add a lot of flavour, including Michael’s ailing mother and Alan’s work associate, Walter. Then there is a bottle of whisky, a bunch of yellow tulips, some art books, an apple & pear cobbler, a hamster and a hair dryer.

Carnage is an excellent film that shows how superficial and fake people tend to become with not only strangers but also their loved ones. As the film’s tagline says, it is ‘a comedy of no manners’ that spells utter mayhem, chaos and massacre in a brilliant cinematic way.

Do not miss it.

– Shrey Khetarpal

*The first line in this post is almost similar to the film’s opening lines.

 

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Contagion

Don’t talk to anyone… don’t touch anyone…

Contagion; Pic: Warner Bros.

How many times you touch your face in a day? Three to five times every waking minute says Dr. Erin Mears, an epidemic investigating officer in the film, Contagion; which means about 4,800 times in a day.  What surfaces you touch that can give you a deadly virus… peanuts in a pub, door knobs, handshake with a colleague, your own desk at work… there is no way you can avoid touching things or people… what happens when a deadly virus spreads around the world through surface contact (fomite transmission, explained in the film)? Contagion, a riveting new thriller by Steven Soderbergh presents a similar scenario tracing the lives of the affected families, doctors, scientists and investigators as a global pandemic explodes.

The film begins with a dark screen where you hear a woman coughing. You see a business traveller, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) at an airport bar sniffling and fighting a bad case of flu. ‘Day 2’ flashes on the screen and the camera focuses on the bowl of peanuts lying in front of her. You know it’s not good. Day 3 and she is dead along with the others in London, Japan and Hong Kong. The reason is unknown and the toll rising very fast. Professionals at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are already having emergency meetings. The film begins at a tense note and stays like that throughout; though serious and scary, the director maintains restraint and avoids sensationalizing the subject. The screenplay moves at a breakneck pace except a few parts in the second half. Contagion scares but presents a very realistic picture of what may happen in a crisis situation of a global pandemic.

The film boasts of an enviable ensemble cast of Academy Award® and Emmy® winners and nominees, but the director ensures that none get precedence over the film’s lead, the deadly virus. Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, a grieving husband who is concerned about his daughter’s safety; Kate Winslet plays Dr. Erin Mears, a scientist for whom duty comes first; Marion Cotillard is WHO’s Dr. Leonora Orantes who is on the job to trace the virus’ origin; Jude Law, a conspiracy theorist and blogger; Laurence Fishburne, Dr. Ellis Cheever, head of CDC who finds himself in moral dilemma; and Jennifer Ehle is Dr. Ally Hextall who is working round the clock to develop a vaccine to fight the virus. There are many plots in this global drama that Soderbergh brings together perfectly without giving too much importance to a particular star or character. Look out for the scene where two scientists in isolation suits discuss their weekend while investigating a deadly virus strain. Also, the scene where Mitch checks his wife’s pictures of her fateful trip to Hong Kong, months after her death.

Contagion’s success lies in creating fear in the minds of the audience without making it appear over the top like other disaster flicks. Scott Z Burns’ screenplay is taut and editing superb (Stephen Mirrione), which along with the gripping background score (Cliff Martinez) makes it a must watch thriller.

My rating: *** ½ Three and a half on five