Carnage is all about the performances because if the performances fail and aren't convincing then the whole film could very easily fall apart.
Penelope (Foster) and Michael (Reilly) Longstreet invite Alan (Waltz) and Nancy (Winslet) Cowan over to their place to have a cordial meeting between parents after their two 11 year-old boys got in a fight on the school playground. Ethan, Penelope and Michael's son, was hit in the face by the Cowan's son, Zachary, with a stick causing two of Ethan's teeth to be knocked out. So the hope of this meeting is to clear the air between the parents and then get the two kids to talk about it with Zachary apologizing to Ethan and all of this can be put behind them. But what starts out as a friendly, mannerly conversation between adults takes a nose dive in to aggression and the "grown-ups" are acting worse than their kids. The curtain is pulled back on both couples leaving them to show their true colors and what they really think about each other. It is the harsh reality of the life they really live and the struggles each of them face in their own marriage. The truth certainly finds its way out by the end of their get together and it's not pretty. Not one bit.
Carnage is all about the performances because if the performances fail and aren't convincing then the whole film could very easily fall apart. But with actors like Winslet, Waltz, Foster, and Reilly, there is no way that was going to happen. Foster plays a wife and mother whose idea it was to have the meeting in the first place and I am sure it was done with best of intentions. But as one thing happens after another, it doesn't go like she thought it would and she certainly doesn't get the apology she expected. And Reilly seems to not have an opinion and just agrees with Penelope. He tries to be the peacekeeper at first, but begins to lose it until he is finally pushed over the edge and we get to see who Michael really is.
Winslet and Waltz are practically polar opposites of Penelope and Michael. Nancy acts concerned at first about the altercation between the two boys, but she thinks all of the blame should not be placed on their son and both boys should be held responsible. And let's face it, we all know this is what kids do and these types of things happen all the time. This is exactly Alan's opinion of the entire situation and views the meeting as ridiculous and pointless, which why his wife had to drag him there in the first place. But he spends most of his time on the phone due to work so his interest and attention is very limited from the start. A meeting that was suppose to be about the kids shifts its focus to them and about their lives and who they are and represent. All four people seem trapped in some shape, way or form, whether it is in their marriage or simply in that damn apartment.
Carnage is the perfect title for a film like this because that is exactly what these two couples cause and get caught up in. By the end, the gloves are off and no one is backing down. At a quick 80 minutes, Polanski dives right in to the story of humans being humans. People try to put on a smile and try not to make a big deal out of things, but certain situations, especially when it concerns their children, can make people turn in to monsters. There is nothing fancy about Carnage, but it is a terrific platform for some of the best actors working today to showcase all kinds of emotions which in return creates a hostile, funny, uncomfortable, but always entertaining environment.