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Two middle-class couples meet on polite terms to patch up a playground scuffle between their sons. But they end up verbally tearing lumps out of one another in Roman Polanski’s wickedly satirical screen adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s hit stage play, God of Carnage.

Bourgeois good manners prove to be a very thin veneer when New York couple Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) go to the home of aggrieved parents Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) to settle the issue. At first, everyone is cordial and well behaved. But tensions soon emerge between and within the couples.

Cynical lawyer Alan reveals his disdain by plotting the defence of a scandal-hit drugs company on his mobile, plumbing supplies salesman Michael becomes increasingly boorish and uptight Kate vomits over a priceless art catalogue, at which point the ostentatiously socially concerned Penelope reveals her true scale of values.

It’s ghastly but utterly riveting, mercilessly dissecting social hypocrisy, and Polanski directs his heavy-hitting cast with consummate skill. Save for a brief, distant glimpse of the kids’ initial quarrel, he makes no effort to open out the play, making us squirm all the more by confining us to the hosts’ Brooklyn apartment as the encounter unfolds in real time.