Originating from the Tony and Oliver award-winning play “God of Carnage,” the cinema adaption Carnage hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles in a limited release this weekend. Directed by Roman Polanski, who worked closely with playwright Yasmina Reza (who is also credited with the screenplay), Carnage begs the question: did the acclaimed director skillfully film a play or successfully create a movie?

As a play, “God of Carnage” presents a few challenges for adaption. The story hinges on one action—a playground fight. The fight was originally off-stage in the play, but is shown in the distance at the start of the movie. The drama comes when the parents of the “victim,” Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), invite over the parents of the “bully,” Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet).  The parents attempt to solve their children’s playground fight, but conversation soon descends from a discussion of politically-correct parenting theory to all-out verbal warfare as the adults shed their politeness and show their true selves. The children fade from the scene while loneliness, despair, and miscommunication come to the foreground as the adults’ inner lives and marital turmoil is put on full display.

All four actors deliver. Jodie Foster embodies middle-class guilt and a parent’s earnestness. John C. Reilly brilliantly sheds his skin from mild-mannered dad to a deflated middle-age nihilist. Kate Winslet’s silence is cutting. Christoph Waltz removes any semblance of cliché from the role of asshole lawyer and actually makes his character likable.

Movies hinge on action and Carnage does its best to respect that, even though it’s set entirely in a small living room. The props become the supporting stars–art books and furniture are bandied about, apple and pear cobbler is served and digested with a surprising menace, single-malt scotch and cigars enter when the parents decide to shed a polite facade and a cell phone’s constant ringing steals a few scenes.

In a staged drama, audiences are accustomed to dialogue taking precedence, but we’re now in the age of short-attention span cinema where few scenes stay in one location for longer than two minutes, let alone an entire 80. The movie loses none of the play’s pointed dialogue. It also keeps the monologues, each a one brilliant and pitch perfect recreations of suburban malaise. The settings become claustrophobic just as the speeches become more profound and the tone shifts from parents bickering to adults unraveling.  At this moment, the camera-work also shifts and become less static, cutting closer to the actors.

While Polanski’s adaptation techniques are interesting, seeing Carnage still feels like watching a play; however, it’s a play you’ll be lucky to watch. The great writing and first-class performances make it one of the best shows at present, on stage or screen.