Director: Roman Polanski.
SBS/Constantin/SPI/Canal+ et al
Producer: Said Ben Said. Writers: Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski. Camera: Pawel Edelman. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Sets: Dean Tavoularis.
Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, Elvis Polanski, Eliot Berger.
When their children are involved in a minor brawl that sees one of them injured, two professional, middle-class couples (Foster and Reilly; Winslet and Waltz) gather to discuss the possibility of the offending child apologising. The meeting soon descends into a farcical series of recriminations, revelations and neurotic breakdowns.
Polanski’s starry ‘tete a quartet’ is his adaptation of co-writer Reza’s play Le Dieu du carnage. But rather than “skewering middle class hypocrisies” as the publicity blurb would have it, he instead tickles them with a light slap on the wrist.
This is an awkward film to pull off successfully – a one set movie with only 4 protagonists arguing almost non-stop throughout was never going to be an easy sell to producers. Wisely, he keeps the running time to a minimum (just less than 1 hour 20 minutes) but it still feels a quarter of an hour too long. He and co-writer Reza still manage to set the action up admirably though and, barring the last few minutes when one feels they have been hit on the head enough times with smart and incisive observations and comments, they manage to sustain the pace and verve.
It helps from here on in that he has picked the very best actors to flesh out the prosperous, pretentious and pompous adults who fight like kids over their kids having a fight. Oscar-nominated Foster shines in the showier role as a sphincter-tightening control freak, a woman who espouses respect for others but forces her way of doing things on other people. She also revels in a grossly distorted view of events (“Their son is a threat to homeland security” she says, only half-joking). McGinley is magnificently boorish as her husband who reveals his disdain for her, his children and even a beloved hamster. Winslet is fast becoming a very great actress, as evidenced here not only her passive aggressiveness but also in her remarkable body language; coiled tighter than a watch spring, setting her character up to disgorge in spectacular fashion. Waltz is the quietest of the group, but his smug, gurning lawyer, forever attached to a mobile phone and ready with a cutting jibe.