Following a nasty incident between their eleven-year-old sons, affluent New Yorkers Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) come to the apartment of the equally upstanding Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) in the spirit of conciliation. But as the veneer of cordiality begins to crack, it doesn't take long for the grown-ups to stop playing nice. Conducted by Roman Polanski and performed by a pitch-perfect quartet, this adaptation of playwright Yasmina Reza's chamber piece God of Carnage is a scabrously funny delight.
John C Reilly
Four well-to-do parents resolving a dispute between their children over coffee and pudding? Where's the carnage in that?
It doesn't take long to find out as Roman Polanski - something of a terrible enfant himself - turns Yasmina Reza's one-act wonder into one of his finest hours. Well, hour-and-a-bits.
The fun begins when eleven-year-old Zachary Cowan knocks classmate Ethan Longstreet's teeth out with a big stick.
But instead of letting their lawyers have a field day, Ethan's folks Penny and Michael (Foster and Reilly) invite the Cowans over to resolve the situation like the open-minded and civilised human beings they are.
Or at least think they are.
Unfortunately, while Zachary's mum Nancy (Winslet) is happy to take the olive branch, her legal eagle husband Alan (Waltz) is clearly more interested in dealing with his pharmaceutical company's woes.
Surgically attached to his phone, he is dismissive, superior and rude. But at least he's consistent.
Unlike Penny, who outwardly wants a swift resolution but is the one person who can't let the matter lie. What's more, her liberalism (she writes bleeding-heart pieces about Africa) turns out to be as crumbly as her pear cobbler.
Similarly, behind Michael's affable façade is a miserable cynic who has as much regard for people as rodents. Which, given his treatment of his daughter's hamster, is not much.
As for Nancy, she is not only sick of her husband's attitude, she's sick everywhere. But it's only when Michael breaks out his best Scotch that she shows her true colours.
You'll laugh. You'll cringe. You'll relish every one of the 79 glorious minutes it takes Polanski and Reza to whip down the hypocritical pants of these self-righteous smuggos.
Of course, the transition from stage to screen is made a lot easier when your cast is three parts Oscar-winner to one part nominee (Reilly... but give him time).
Under Polanski's direction, the subtle switching of allegiances and steady erosion of airs and pretensions make their middle-class meltdown a joy to behold.
And if you still think it all sounds a bit dry, stand by for the most memorable vomit scene since Team America: World Police...