Director Roman Polanski strips away the veneer of civility that supposedly separates man from beast and reduces two well-to-do couples to snarling adversaries in this film version of the award-winning stage comedy God Of Carnage.

Playwright Yasmina Reza adapts her own celebrated work for the big screen, entrusting her incendiary dialogue to a stellar cast including three former Oscar winners, who deliver each verbal grenade with lip-smacking relish.

It’s an acting tour-de-force, the tension heightened by the claustrophobic setting of a swish Brooklyn apartment overlooking the park, where an act of aggression between two children provides the dramatic spark for the hostility.

Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and his wife Nancy (Kate Winslet) visit the apartment of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C Reilly, Jodie Foster) to apologise for their son Zachary, who has hit the Longstreets’ son Ethan in the face with a stick.

As a result, poor Ethan has two broken incisors, nerve damage and swelling to his upper lip.

The meeting is intended to be brief and courteous.

As the conversation ebbs and flows, tensions become evident until poor Nancy is taken ill and spoils Penelope’s prized Kokoschka art catalogue.

The Cowans head for the bathroom to clean up while the Longstreets seethe.

Once the guests return to the sitting room, verbal exchanges become increasingly terse and heated until all sense of decorum disintegrates and the couples lash out just like their boys.

Carnage lives up to its title, decimating the characters’ facades of politeness and charm as collective tempers fray.

Polanski allows the machine-gun dialogue to dictate the rhythm of the film. The camerawork and editing becoming increasingly frenetic as everyone competes for the delicious last word.