Winter Movie Reviews: ‘Carnage,’ ‘Shame,’ ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’

The easiest way to shock the bourgeoisie is to hold up a mirror, something Carnage director Roman Polanski knows a thing or two about. Adapted from the Tony-winning play by Yasmina Reza, this barbed and lively film owes everything to its exceptional leads—Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly—and is so agoraphobic it could almost have been filmed on a stage set. The scene is contemporary Brooklyn, with its peculiar liberal clash of granola and BlackBerrys. Two couples, one haughty in its feigned lack of pretension, the other pretentious in its delusions of grandeur, meet in an apartment one winter afternoon to discuss an afterschool brawl that involved the child of one pair thwacking the offspring of the other with a stick. It doesn’t take long for everything to come apart at the seams. After several hysterical monologues and a prodigious amount of vomit courtesy of Ms. Winslet, what remains is a miasma of hypocrisy and self-delusion, which is not to say the whole affair isn’t terribly funny. If nervous laughter is a sign that you’re too close to home, Carnage cuts to the quick. —Megan Conway

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Novices to the smoke-and-mirrors tactics of the espionage thriller might require a second viewing to keep track of who’s double-crossing who—frankly, even who’s who—in this twisty adaptation of John le Carré’s classic genre novel. Awash in a Cold War palette of iron grays and military browns, Tinker, Tailor resurrects a familiar spycraft storyline: expose—and then whack—the mole. A Soviet spook has breached the highest level of British intelligence, known as “the  Circus,” and it’s up to Gary Oldman, playing le Carré’s mild-mannered but brilliant protagonist, George Smiley, to sniff him out. Along the way, the actor proves once again that he’s as much chameleon as he is human. With a roster of the best actors Britain has to offer, including Tom Hardy and an oily Colin Firth, and fastidious dedication to the minutiae of le Carré’s world—from thinning hairlines to duplicitous stares—director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) prods the viewer into doing what every good spy must: look closely, then look again. —Ben Barna
With Shame, British fine artist Steve McQueen secures his place as one of the world’s most uncompromising—and controversial—filmmakers. Reuniting with Michael Fassbender, star of his 2008 debut, Hunger, about the famous hunger strike led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, the director takes on the topic of sex addiction. While Shame is beautiful to look at, what we see ain’t pretty. Fassbender plays Brandon, a calculating Manhattanite whose sterile apartment and insatiable appetite for flesh leave him one chainsaw away from Patrick Bateman country, were it not for a flicker of conscience. That inner voice only grows louder when Brandon gets a surprise visit from his bohemian sister (Carey Mulligan), a lounge singer named Sissy who desperately wants to connect to her brother. In the film’s most wrenching scene, she croons a version of “New York, New York” that brings Brandon to tears, his mysterious inner turmoil literally spilling over. McQueen’s New York is glassy and cold, built for anonymous encounters. It’s only when those encounters get too personal that Brandon is overcome by the film’s titular emotion. —BB
Man on a Ledge
While English majors might be inclined to fish for metaphors, Man on a Ledge takes its title quite literally. The film stars Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy, a man on the ledge of a building who’s threatening to swan dive to his death. Why? Well, his motives are obscure at first. But as events progress and Cassidy—a former police officer and current fugitive—is joined by a police psychologist (the always-welcome Elizabeth Banks) who tries to talk him down, it becomes clear that this escapade is a smokescreen designed to help his young brother (Jamie Bell) pull off a daring diamond heist, one that will clear Cassidy’s name. As a crowd gathers, the would-be jumper ascends to folk hero status, evoking shades of Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon. Worthington is no Pacino, but he does do an admirable job of keeping us invested in Cassidy’s fate by injecting moments of levity—pausing, for instance, to wolf down a cheeseburger—that soften these precarious proceedings. —Hillary Weston
In the Land of Blood and Honey
It’s hard to ignore the question that dogs this film: Should audiences cut debut writer-director Angelina Jolie slack for trying something new, or should they condemn the actor-bombshell for making a vanity project? Set in a land torn apart by political strife—it is Jolie, after all—Blood and Honey considers Bosnian
painter Ajla and Serbian nationalist Danijel, who fall in love on the eve of the intractable Bosnian War of the 1990s. In the first scene, they’re dancing in a nightclub. Then, in what’s perhaps an overly literal moment, a bomb explodes. The film veers toward The Night Porter territory when Ajla is brought to a Serbian military camp in the hills outside Sarajevo, where Danijel, the son of a warlord, placates his troops with captive Bosnian women. Ajla and Danijel rekindle their affair, and it’s here that the film begins to find its pace and center of gravity. Blood and Honey contains moments of beauty and credible ambiguity. Its greatest strength might be that by the end, you’ve forgotten entirely who’s calling the shots. —MC
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