Reel-Life Law: Carnage

April 2, 2013

Slick, rude, morally compromised – is anything wrong with Christoph Waltz’s lawyer?

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics










Alan Cowan, played by Christoph Waltz in Roman Polanski’s Carnage, ain’t doing much to dispel the popular corporate lawyer stereotype.

One might happily describe him as Gordon Gekko on half-speed: a softly spoken, deliberate operator who’ll happily junk his morals if that means salvaging his biggest client. (That’s a pharma company being exposed for disguising the neurological side-effects of one of its most profitable medicines. Nice.)

The most noticeable thing about Cowan: he’s always on his cellphone. It seems that his life is taking place somewhere he’s not – his client’s office, or his own office. Which he can’t get to because he’s trapped in a Brooklyn flat living out a bourgeois hell, negotiating with a couple whose son has been assaulted by Cowan’s son, in a New York playground spat.

When his wife Nancy – beautifully played by Kate Winslet – eventually rips the phone away from him and dumps it in a vase full of water, his response is akin to having his backbone pulled out. Think the Wicked Witch of the West when the water’s thrown over her, were the Wicked Witch a platinum card holder at Brooks Brothers.

As his layers strip away, Alan shows himself to be both sexist and a libertarian, questioning the existence of society and celebrating the existence of the ‘God of Carnage’ who has ‘ruled uninterruptedly’ since the dawn of time. With carnage as the key universal dynamic, what use, he asks, is education? All we can do, he believes, is save ourselves, and recognise that very few of us have any real interest in the well-being of others.

Depressing? Perhaps. How lawyers want to see themselves? Perhaps not. But Alan shows how the demands of a career in law can support some pretty ungenerous world-views, and for that, it’s well worth a watch. AB

Share Our Posts

Share this post through social bookmarks.

Related Posts

Reel-Life Law

Erin Brockovich – proof that hard work really does come with big rewards More…

Reel-Life Law

Practising law is just one big party for Franklin and Bash


Reel-Life Law

Bed-hopping, booze and barristers – how This Life made law sexy