After their two 11 year-old sons fight in a local park, a quartet of well-heeled Brooklynites gather in one of their apartments to discuss the issue. But their veneer of civility is soon torn to shreds as the participants descend into an orgy of recrimination, murdered mobiles and puked-on art catalogues.
With the exception of the opening and closing titles, we spend the whole of Roman Polanski’s pacy, irresistibly malicious adaptation of Yasmin Reza’s hit play God Of Carnage in a single, slightly cramped New York apartment and in the company of only four characters. Genius production designer Dean Tavoularis, who built the flat on a Paris soundstage — a result of Polanski’s well-known legal issues — has delivered a masterpiece of upper-middle-class taste and refinement: the walls are just the right shade of eggshell, art books decorate the pine coffee tables, a tasteful flower arrangement sits in the middle of the room. But all too soon we realise that this apartment is more of a cage, and we are to witness the most entertainingly vicious, exuberantly acted, emotional punch-up since Abigail threw her party.
Castwise this is pure bliss. Kate Winslet is initially nervy and soon hysterical as “wealth-manager” Nancy; Jodie Foster’s academic African specialist’s already brittle visage twists into a mask of hatred when her impeccably liberal values are challenged, while John C. Reilly looks suitably uncomfortable as her blue-collar husband Michael, a plumbing salesman forced into middle-class attire and attitudes by his wife (he freely admits to the disgust of almost everyone present to have just flung his son’s pet hamster out on the street “like a common sewer rat”). But it’s Christoph Waltz as corporate legal flack Alan, who spends much of the movie on his ill-fated BlackBerry advising a pharmaceuticals company that is selling dodgy pills to hold tight, on whom Polanski lavishes his best lines and obvious intellectual sympathy. The overall effect as these gargoyles collide in the fading autumn sunlight is like early Neil Simon but shot through with ripples of acid contempt.
Towards the end, though, a fifth character makes a brief appearance. The next-door neighbour opens their door a crack to see what all the shouting is about. A patch of old-man stubble is visible, a baleful eye peers at these overgrown Lords Of The Flies, and Roman Polanski slowly closes the door in disgust. His task is complete: the bourgeoisie hasn’t been this gleefully épatered since Buñuel.
A quartet of pitch-perfect performances from a cast uniformly at its career best, together with a director on shockingly mischievous top form, this is a shot of pure, exhilarating cinematic malice. And if nothing else, it contains the most surprising puking sequence since Monsieur Creosote.