Re-Casting Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’
I recommend you watch Roman Polanski’s Carnage. Like all his movies, whether it be the great Chinatown or the less-great Oliver Twist, it is sustained by a muscular sense of storytelling, deft acting, and a compelling use of evocative cinematography. The story revolves around two couples meeting to have a civilized discussion, accompanied by apple-pear cobbler, about a playground fight between their sons, which left one of them with two fewer teeth.
The cast of Carnage, which is composed of two couples, Jodie Foster & John C Riley, and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz, however is a bit problematic. All four actors have done extensive stage work throughout their careers, and they certainly show those skills in bringing to life these characters originally written for a stage play. They deliver the dialogue, which sometimes has the overly declarative and slightly expositive nature found in most theater, with a grace and subtlety. The translation was surely aided by the steady, reliable skills of Polanski, who has no problem telling stories confined to a small setting. The film does have an overall problem in how the cast feels slightly disconnected from the characters they are supposed to represent. The following choices are my casting recommendations.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Connelly instead of Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet
The movie needs a more conniving villain than Christoph Waltz. While his snorting laugh and incessant phone calls do enough to turn the viewer against him, we do not feel threatened by him. He seems like a cartoonish buffoon, and not enough like a heartless corporate lawyer. His vague international accent may also work for a role in which he plays a charming, cosmopolitan Nazi, but it is simply distracting here. Bradley Cooper would bring more danger to the role, and also a certain vapidity that isn’t present in Waltz. We get the impression he is playing to the audience rather than embodying a character.
Kate Winslet playing an investment broker feels mismatched. While she can scream with the best of them, I feel that the role would have been better suited to Jennifer Connelly, who has a colder, harsher facade. She is an actress with a natural edginess, somebody who could easily convey the stresses of managing huge sums of money on a daily basis. She also seems better suited to play alongside Bradley Cooper. Together, they represent a couple who were once the toast of the town, but now, in their late thirties and early forties, are slightly angry about feeling left behind.
Josh Brolin and Diane Lane instead of John C. Riley and Jodie Foster
The real-life couple of Brolin and Lane would bring a believable intimacy to the role, something to counterpart the financial anxiety of the Cooper-Connelly couple. They are also younger than Riley and Foster, yet older than the other couple, which fits in nicely with the movie. Josh Brolin is also more believable as a man who runs a kitchen and toilet supply company. He conveys the sense of a man who would like to live a life of cigars and cognac, yet has been domesticated against his will. John C. Riley seems more like a lovable husband, one who would gladly take to the comforts of married life.
Diane Lane, like Jodie Foster, has the ability to smile and yet show inner turmoil at the same time. Lane, however, would bring a motherly warmth to the role, something that Foster lacks. In Silence of the Lambs, we can watch the filmmakers use Foster’s coldness to the advantage of the story. She is an FBI agent who has to protect herself from the charms of a master manipulator. But in Carnage, when we see Foster almost weep for her Kokoschka book that has been covered in vomit, it brings out that frigidity in an overwhelming way. We do do believe that she cares about her child, which may be the point of the story, but also renders the character a bit flat.