15 December 2011

Movie Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin


B

We Need To Talk About Kevin
2011, 112mins, 15
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writer (s): Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear, Lionel Shriver (novel)
Cast includes: Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Rock Duer, Jasper Newell
UK Release Date: 21st October 2011

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” is a deeply unsettling watch, director Lynne Ramsay capturing the disturbed essence of Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel capably. Ramsay assembles the narrative in a fragmented style, mirroring the state of motherly distress that its protagonist endures for the majority of the feature. It’s not a movie for all tastes, and possibly goes overboard in its pursuit of a surreal visual aesthetic, but “We Need To Talk About Kevin” leaves a pointed mark thanks to solid acting and a consistent aura of subdued dread.

Kevin (Ezra Miller in a stunning debut) is a teenage serial killer, having utilized his fascination with archery to bloody effect on several of his classmates. The police quickly whip him into custody, leaving his mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) to publically deal with the consequences of Kevin’s psychotic actions. As the local community turns against her, Eva is left alone and exasperated to reflect on her life as a parent, with particular focus being applied to Kevin’s ominous upbringing.

Due to the splintered fashion in which Ramsey interprets the tale, it is impossible to discuss “We Need To Talk About Kevin” without touching on some minor spoilers. From the outset it’s obvious that Eva’s life has been stung by massive tragedy, the source of which quickly transpires to be Kevin. We don’t know exactly what has occurred, only that it is a cause of immense local distress, leaving Eva to have her house vandalised regularly and to suffer through vicious confrontations with disgruntled residents. Ramsay uses the power of uncertainty effectively, deploying it to crank up the tension resourcefully. A chronological retelling of the story might have allowed for a more accessible link with certain characters, but it would also have undoubtedly robbed the film of the suspense that ultimately acts as a core driving force.

Swinton is never overplays her hand as Eva, subtly communicating various degrees of emotional abandonment throughout the picture splendidly. It’s a fantastically grounded turn, the actress finding appropriate onscreen dynamics with her various co-stars. She and John C. Reilly (playing her husband) make for a believable pairing, and her scenes with young Ezra Miller are astounding. Miller also conveys a lot through very little, the actor providing “We Need To Talk About Kevin” with a very human menace. He’s never entirely sympathetic, but the teen does a fine job of depicting a person simply hamstrung with sadness from birth, converting his disdain into action through the most despicable means possible.

The opening 15 minutes of the film are almost unwatchable, Ramsay simply stitching together a series of striking images with little regard for context. With every frame the film’s intent becomes more obvious, but whilst it is strikingly photographed and edited, one feels that some of Ramsay’s choices aren’t always to the story’s benefit. There are chunks of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” that feel hollow and overly frosty, Ramsay’s fixation on bizarre aesthetical choices and forceful cinematography overriding the impact of the harrowing plot. The director never pulls her punches and during the focal scenes always applies stern attention to the cruel interactions depicted, but amidst vital pieces of character building she occasionally gets lost. These dips in focus loosen the pacing frustratingly, killing the project’s intrigue and fever at inopportune moments.

“We Need To Talk About Kevin” will be remembered as one of 2011’s more unforgiving motion pictures, unwilling to play ball with conventional expectations or to wimp out during its more horrific sequences. As a result it might find trouble converting its critical acclaim (the film was a hit at Cannes earlier this year) into statues, although pundits would do well to keep a keen eye on Swinton and Miller during the forthcoming season. This is an adaptation worth watching, but not one I can see the masses returning to again and again. If you need to talk about Kevin now’s the time, because come Oscar night I have a feeling he’ll be strangely forgotten.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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