There is a confrontation on the playground at school, where one boy hits another one in the face with a stick. Seen at a distance, the assault leads us to a stylish apartment where the parents of the children discuss the incident. John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster play Michael and Penelope, the parents of the victim. Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet are Alan and Nancy Cowen, the parents of the attacker who have come to Michael and Penelope's to, do what exactly? Discuss the incident? Apologize? Make sure there is no lawsuit down the road? The conversation bounces back and forth, tip-toeing around the subject so feelings aren't hurt. They all have cobbler and tea and coffee, trying to remain civil. But it doesn't last long.
The unit breaks down. Alcohol is introduced, and dirty laundry is aired more rapidly. But up until the point where Michael breaks through his facade ("Penny made me dress up like a liberal!") and starts pouring the scotch, Carnage doesn't function like a film. It goes around and around in circles and grows achingly repetitive. At under 80 minutes, the first hour of the picture feels much longer and is uninvolving. Polanski keeps the film fittingly claustrophobic, and the final minutes of the film are much more entertaining that anything before it. But Carnage is clearly a play that worked better on stage. Here, it feels stretched out to the point where everything feels like a reach.