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Anyone who’s had a child can relate to the central situation of Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” in which a playground tiff ends in a bloodied mouth and a parental conference to sort out the consequences. Reza’s sly transformation of a petty squabble into an extended metaphor for mankind’s slippery slope into chaos is very much in evidence in Roman Polanski’s brief (80 minutes) film adaptation, set in Brooklyn, but shot in Paris for the helmer’s convenience.

What’s not in evidence is Christopher Hampton’s stage adaptation. Reza and Polanski worked from a literal translation from the French, and the screenplay’s awards chances will suffer if voters register fewer laughs than they recall from Broadway and L.A. engagements. A SAG ensemble nod may be in the cards for Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, but if the AMPAS deigns to single someone out for a nomination, figure it to be Reilly. The only cast member yet to win an Oscar, he gets most of the punchlines and climbs most naturally into the skin of his guy: a nouveau-riche bourgeois with a street tough’s air, bewildered by the escalating conflicts he can neither understand nor control.

Release date: Dec. 16
Sony Pictures Classics
Read the Variety review