We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). Film review of the drama about a woman and her troubled son.

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Drama

image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review, by Jason Day, of We Need to Talk About Kevin, the psychological drama starring Tilda Swinton as the mother of a deeply disturbed child.

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Synopsis

Eva (Tilda Swinton) visits her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) who is in prison after he killed several of his peers and teachers at a High School massacre.

Before he was born, Eva was a free-spirit, traveller and author of popular travel guides to the coolest places on the planet that young people should see and experience.

After meeting and settling down with the kind, avuncular Franklin (John C. Reilly), she finds herself pregnant but is inwardly afraid of this and resistant to giving birth when the time arrives.

The baby – Kevin – cries incessantly when alone with his mother but not when Franklin is around, stressing Eva and leading her to doubt her own mind due to lack of sleep. As he grows, Kevin resists toilet training, rebuffs her affections and shows a lack of interest in doing anything, but his mood changes when his father is present and he engages in conversation and playing.

As he enters manhood the family is joined by a sister, Celia, whose existence and sweetness aggravates Kevin, pushing him toward the event that will define his and his mother’s futures.

Review, by Jason Day

We Need to Talk About Kevin poster, designed by DeviantArt.

I first read Lionel Shriver’s book about 12 years ago. I was holidaying in Los Angeles – all pleasure, no business – and wanted something ‘cultural’ in case my inner snob was activated by (quelle horreur) slumming it in LaLa Land.

As it turns out, L.A. proved to be more cultural than I anticipated as well as fun (my first night was spent being heartily amused by some Saturday Night Live comedians at a Gay and Lesbian arts centre), so was well worth the £2k I managed to splash on the whole fortnight.

The book didn’t disappoint either and I was in agreement with the critics who lauded it and fully concurerd with the international awards Shriver received. It also made me look ‘intelligent’ while I was pool-side – at least in my imagination.

Written in the form of letters from a mother to a father after he has long since vacated family bliss, the book doesn’t lend itself well to a cinema adaptation. So hats off to writers Lynn Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear (Ramsay’s husband at the time the film came out) for doing away with what wasn’t wanted or needed and cutting with scalpel-like precision to the heart of the letters Eva writes.

That approach in the book which made it start so arrestingly, so personally and involving, eventually got on my nerves. Would anyone write such long-winded, emotionally draining communications, especially to someone they suspect is just chucking them in the bin, unopened? Catharsis has its limits.

Of course, it had to be written that way and you see why as you get closer to the end, but Ramsay and Kinnear have all the tools of cinema at their disposal, so happily dumped that style.

Swinton has been picking some diverse and interesting roles ever since her Oscar win for Michael Clayton in 2007. From the brilliant Mexican drama Julia (2008), a number of collaborations with Cohen brothers and Wes Anderson, some up-marker indie (I Am Love, 2009) and some blockbuster comic hits like Doctor Strange, you can’t accuse Tilda of slacking-off. Since 2011 she has appeared in (visually or voice-only roles) 28 feature length productions, plus assorted TV appearances, shorts and docus. Like La Huppert, you get your money worth with La Swinton.

Miller, as the older Kevin, shares Swinton’s androgynous, ghost-like look so his casting here as Kevin was inevitable. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role and, like Swinton, he gives a devastating performance as a young man compelled to torture the woman tortured by creating him.

As families go, the Khatchadourian’s are as fucked up as any other, they just happen to go public with it.

Cast & credits

Director: Lynn Ramsay. 1hr 42 mins/112 mins. BBC Films/UK Film Council/Footprint Investment/Piccadilly Investment/Lipsync Productions/Independent Artina Films/Rockinghorse Films.

Producers: Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Bob Salerno.
Writers: Lynn Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear.
Camera: Seamus McGarvey.
Music: Jonny Greenwood.
Sets: Judy Becker.

Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Falon Hogan, Alex Manette.

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