There's enough dark, edgy ironic wit to go around in a new stage adaptation from controversial Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer) that is almost as entertaining as it is swiftly paced.
His Carnage, co-written by Yasmina Reza (playwright of God of Carnage which appeared in France and also on Broadway) doesn't simmer with acrid ardor like the seminal Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as it moves from polite offerings to hostility among two couples (the mothers being very protective of their kids), doesn't really draw any (or enough) blood, except in an opening playground scuffle.
A meeting at the Brooklyn apartment of Penelope (Jodie Foster of The Beaver) and Michael (John C. Reilly) whose 11-year-old boy had his teeth knocked in by the boy of the same of upscale parents Nancy (Kate Winslet of Contagion) and Alan (Christoph Waltz of Water for Elephants).
For a little while there is civilized discussion with an insurance claim on their "disfigured" son, but Penelope, a writer, and Michael, a hardware supply salesman, aren't satisfied with the parental response of their guests, and things get more heated after the churlish Michael opens up a bottle of 18-year-old scotch.
An aging, yet lucid controversial auteur like Polanski (subject of an entertaining documentary subtitled Wanted and Desired) makes a cramped set bristle with spry theatrical tension allowing enough room for the actors to face off expressively as marital dissent evident among the quarreling.
An experience of closeness and hysteria is brought on by some sharp production contributions, especially the lensing, though some tight close-ups don't work as well with the liberal indignant of Foster who comes on a bit strong at times as Penelope whose cobbler pie doesn't agree with Nancy. Better is Reilly as a guy who doesn't particularly like hamsters and Winslet as a stressed-out financial service person appearing in the early going to be a mediator. Perhaps the cream of a capable crop is Waltz at his best since shining in Inglourious Basterds as a licentious lawyer always on his BlackBerry.
Agreeable mostly to specialty venues and discerning art-house cineastes, Carnage stews with brutal humor and has more cinematic and actorly mobility than expected as it touches on larger issues. The proficient Polanski unveils a bit into of everyone through provocation in his backhanded, one-note, sometimes oddly comical as Alan, Michael, Nancy and Penelope fiercely hit their thresholds.