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I am aware that I tend to berate my readers about the need to see movies in a theater rather than waiting for them to come to DVD or cable. As proof that this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction on my part to all films, I point to Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s internationally acclaimed play God of Carnage, which may actually work better in your living room.

A one-act play set in a single apartment, Carnage (as the film has been renamed, presumably to heighten its irony) is essentially two couples shedding their bland civility over the course of 80 minutes. The occasion: One of their sons was hurt in a scuffle with the other’s son, and amends must be made. It is, they all tell themselves, the civilized thing to do.

The couples are played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly (home turf) and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet (visitors). The former are more all-American, the latter vaguely foreign and more successful. As the meeting progresses, concludes, and resumes (several times), we watch the script working out every possible pairing of these four in agreeing and disagreeing, whipping themselves up into…well, into something less frenzied than you might have experienced in the theater, with its physical proximity to these people. While its barbs against middle-class pieties and pretensions are amusing, they’re also fairly obvious, with nothing as emotionally stinging as the model for this kind of play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Some of Polanski’s best films have been confined to single apartments—Repulsion, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby. But that sense of isolation in the midst of a community isn’t the point here, which may be why Polanski keeps making us aware of the city outside the window. It’s supposed to be Brooklyn, though it was filmed in France, just as the play (written in French and first performed in Zurich, Paris, and London before Broadway) isn’t particularly about New Yorkers or even Americans. It’s more than worth seeing for the sight of four excellent actors indulging themselves with some very juicy dialogue. But for Polanski it’s a trifle, a disappointment after his excellent Ghost Writer.

Watch the trailer for Carnage

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