Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week, it’s The Deep Blue Sea vs. Carnage: a highbrow battle of Oscar winners starring in film adaptations of well-received stage dramas.
Premise The trailer for The Deep Blue Sea is frustratingly opaque, but we’ve been able to glean this much: Rachel Weisz stars in the film as a midcentury British housewife married to a judge (Simon Russell Beale), who’s had an affair (or is possibly still having one?) with a World War II pilot having trouble readjusting to peace. The usual problems ensue. In Carnage, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play a set of parents whose son has had several teeth knocked out by another boy; the other boy’s parents are played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, and the film takes place just after the fight, when the parents meet to talk things out. As time goes on, their brokering spirals out of control. We’re going with The Deep Blue Sea on this one, because we are unrepentant suckers for doomed romance and are not nearly as invested in bobo parents yelling at each other about social issues. Advantage: The Deep Blue Sea
Source Material The Deep Blue Sea is based on Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play of the same name, which was also adapted into a 1955 film starring Vivien Leigh. It got decent notices, but it’s roundly beaten in the category by the play from which Carnage is adapted, Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, which has been acclaimed since its 2008 debut and garnered Tony nominations for all four of its leads when it went to Broadway in 2009. (Marcia Gay Harden won one.) Though we haven’t seen the play, we’re familiar with Reza’s Art, another play light on plot but heavy on characters moralizing at each other. And you know what? We kind of like it! Advantage: Carnage Cast Our love for Rachel Weisz is well–documented—she’s so great!—and she can totally hold her own against any of the four leads of Carnage. (Except maybe Kate Winslet. Sorry, Rachel.) But Carnage has strength in numbers; before today, we weren’t really aware of Weisz’s The Deep Blue Sea costars, Simon Russell Beale (An Ideal Husband) and Tom Hiddleston (who played Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris and has War Horse coming up). Advantage: The Deep Blue Sea
Director So, this is a tricky one. The director of The Deep Blue Sea is the perfectly respectable Terence Davies, director of the well-received Distant Voices, Still Lives and The House of Mirth as well as the 1995 film The Neon Bible (did you know this was a phrase in parlance prior to the Arcade Fire album? Nor did we!). He’s won more than a dozen major awards, including prizes at Cannes and Toronto; he’s no slouch, is what we’re saying! And then there’s Roman Polanski. We know, we know: Rosemary’s Baby! Chinatown! The Pianist! But we can’t ignore the moral element here—and it’s relevant to the film; even though the script is set in a Brooklyn apartment, it had to be shot in France because Polanski still can’t come to America—or rather, he could, but then he’d actually have to face his punishment for jumping bail lo those many years ago, after he raped a child. We can’t contest that he’s the bigger name among the two, but nor can we hand him the category when we have such serious qualms. Advantage: Tie
Production Design To move onto lighter matters: is either of the films pretty? Well, The Deep Blue Sea is, but in sort of a forgettable Merchant-Ivory way; to see the trailer is to look at the rich mahogany libraries, the rolling countryside and shiny trophies, Rachel Weisz’s perfect coif and excellent wardrobe—and then immediately forget them. That it will win the category is based less on its pleasant aesthetics than on Carnage‘s stubbornly unpleasant ones. Everything about how this film looks—the static staging, the flat lighting, the nasty close-ups, the shapeless costuming—seems deliberately unflattering to its characters and alienating to its viewer. You could argue that that’s exactly the point—but we’d counter that we don’t have to like it. Advantage: The Deep Blue Sea
Oscar Bait Among the actors and directors, which film has the most Oscars to its name? The Deep Blue Sea has a pretty good pedigree: the play’s writer, Terence Ratigan, was nominated for two Oscars; and its star, Rachel Weisz, has won one. But Carnage is a veritable Oscar explosion: Polanski, Winslet, and Waltz each have one; and Jodie Foster has two. And John C. Reilly is a nominee! It is almost inevitable that this film will be up for some awards—for better or worse. Advantage: Carnage
The Verdict Despite our concerns, we have to say—we’re frankly very curious about Carnage. We have the feeling our reaction to The Deep Blue Sea will be a lot like our reaction to the 2008 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, which we sort of vaguely remember as being dramatic and sumptuous, and which we are proud of ourselves on an annoying intellectual level for having seen, but about which we could tell you very little, when it comes right down to it. And it seems like the response to Carnage will probably run along the same lines as the response to Closer: four leads, strong directorial choices, and a chorus of dissenting opinions about whether or not it’s brilliant. Chances are decent that it’ll make us mad—but we want movies to do that sometimes! If we didn’t, we’d just watch The Retrievers over and over. And once was enough. Winner: Carnage