Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- A schoolyard scrape between two boys turns into a parental war of words in “Carnage,” Roman Polanski’s razor-sharp adaptation of the hit play “God of Carnage.”
Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz are flawless as the bickering parents, with Waltz shining the brightest as a high-powered lawyer umbilically connected to his mobile phone.
Other directors might have moved the claustrophobic drama from its apartment setting and added flourishes to differentiate the movie from the play. But Polanski sticks closely to the original story -- he co-wrote the screenplay with “God of Carnage” playwright Yasmina Reza -- and proves that superb ensemble acting and crisp editing are enough to keep the audience spellbound.
The only outside shots are the brief opening and closing scenes at the playground. The rest takes place in the cozy Brooklyn apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet, a bleeding-heart writer (Foster) and housewares salesman (Reilly) whose son had a couple of teeth knocked out by a schoolmate.
The parents of the attacker are Nancy and Alan Cowan, an investment broker (Winslet) and corporate attorney (Waltz) who visit the Longstreets to discuss the scuffle.
The meeting starts civilly, with Penelope serving her guests homemade apple-and-pear cobbler. Then it quickly deteriorates into a no-holds-barred spat that reveals everyone’s prejudices, hypocrisy and selfishness.
“Carnage” is laced with dark humor: Darfur, drugs and Jane Fonda are all grist for laughs. And yes, the film includes the memorable scene where Nancy vomits all over Penelope’s precious coffee-table art books.
Cleaning up that mess proves easier than settling a schoolyard spat.
“Carnage,” from Sony Pictures Classics,” opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2
Robert Downey Jr. returns as a butt-kicking, mind-bending Sherlock Holmes in “A Game of Shadows,” where the legendary detective battles arch-enemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) across Europe at the end of the 19th century.
The mystery, which involves an Indian cotton magnate, a Chinese opium trader and a U.S. steel tycoon, features the same blend of gamesmanship and roughhousing that made Downey’s 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” a hit.
Director Guy Ritchie comfortably reteams with Downey, Jude Law (as Holmes’s sidekick Dr. Watson) and Rachel McAdams (as femme fatale Irene Adler). He also introduces new characters such as a Gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace, who played “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in the Swedish version) and Holmes’s older brother (Stephen Fry).
“A Game of Shadows” is breezy and entertaining but lacks the surprise of the original, which transformed Holmes from a cerebral, pipe-smoker to a crime-fighter as handy with his fists as his brain.
However, there is a cliffhanger ending that leaves room for another chapter in Holmes’s case file.
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: **1/2
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
--Editors: Jeremy Gerard, Daniel Billy.
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