We Need to Talk About Kevin

25 Dec

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year: 2011
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language
Runtime: 112 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Metacritic: 69

 

Lynne Ramsay’s two other previous feature-length films have been Ratcatcher in 1999 and Morvern Callar in 2002, two truly brilliant films (I have Morvern Callar as my twelfth favorite of all 2002) that showed she was a unique female voice in filmmaking, a world that’s dominated by men. The fact that we’ve had to wait nine years for her to deliver her third effort is a pity, but the second you see what she did with her adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin I’m sure you’ll realize it was well worth the wait. She’s just a masterful storyteller, and the stuff she brings to the table in this film, a truly gripping psychological thriller about a mother trying to come to terms with the evilness of her son, who committed a massacre shooting in his high school, is stunning to watch, building a truly engaging narrative for a film that spends two hours just sending chills after chills down your spine.

However, as amazing a director as Ms. Ramsay is, this is a film that relies most of all on the performance of Tilda Swinton, one of the best actresses around who gives one of her finest performances to date here as Eva, the mother of this little monster. The film deals with such difficult themes and issues that normally it would have probably been too hard to watch, but it’s the performance by Ms. Swinton that grabs you by the throat, keeps you compelled as crazy to watch this film. When we see these situations about high-school shootings it usually also involves the kid doing the shooting ultimately turning the gun on himself, but Kevin doesn’t do that, Kevin is sent to prison, and his mom is left to go visit his son after he has committed such unspeakable actions, left to withstand the looks given to her the many that know her to be the mother of the killer, left to wonder about her role in the evilness of her son, just how much she is to blame for it. It’s a stunning performance that makes this film truly incredible, even when the film hits a weak spot, it’s the ballsiness of her performance that makes it unable for you to look away.

It gets to you, this film, the question of nature-versus-nurture it poses, and it’s creepy and shocking, a true horror film in the sense that it plays out in an everyday, regular life. It’s just so perfectly told by Ms. Ramsay, she kind of goes away, her point of view at least, and instead she knows how to rely on her lead actress, on the wonderful Tilda Swinton, to deliver the whole film through her eyes and emotions, a woman who’s grieving like crazy, her world crumbled down and everyday existence devastated by what her son did. What’s more is that Ms. Ramsay and Ms. Swinton don’t take the easy way out in their portrayal of Eva, they don’t make you want to pity her, making her rather cold while still very vulnerable, a really complex character that you probably won’t figure out just how much you want to get behind in just two hours, which is why I’m really looking forward to seeing how this film plays out for me the second time I get to watch it.

Plus it’s not so much about the murders committed by Kevin, which I thought was great. Instead, it plays out more like a Rosemary’s Baby kind of horror film about the demonic child, a film and a lead performance about a mother who actually asks the questions few films dare to utter, about whether a mother can love her child, about what it is that she did wrong in raising him. We watch many flashbacks of Kevin’s life, seeing how he got to become the guy that committed a Columbine-like shooting. She makes the sacrifice once he’s born to move from the downtown loft she lived as she was a travel writer to the suburbs where she’ll be a mom next to her husband, a nice, practical kind of guy played really well by John C. Reilly, one of the most versatile actors working today.

Their firstborn, little Kevin, is always hostile towards them, ungrateful, messing up their stuff, creating a lot of tension in the marriage, manipulating his way at will from a small age, his sociopathic tendencies only revealing themselves more and more when he gets a younger sister. As the teenager that committed the crimes, Kevin is played by Ezra Miller (who I saw in Sam Levinson’s Another Happy Day on Monday and impressed me on that one too) and he’s incredible here, really suggesting some really deep layers to Kevin, a demonic kind of evil, and portraying an antagonistic relationship with his mother that’s really spellbinding to watch develop; he’s a really intense young actor who no doubt will go on to great things in the future.

How Ms. Ramsay employs the flashbacks is great, getting us to switch back with Eva’s life after the incident and then seeing the events that led up to it, the narrative drive she starts building depending a lot on the anticipation of what’s to come next. It’s just a really outstanding film all around, Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood (who scored Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood) providing a haunting score that goes really well with the cinematography provided by Seamus McGarvey (an Oscar-nominee for his work on Atonement), the direction by Ms. Ramsay is seriously incredible, and I really don’t want to wait another nine years for a new film from her, and the performances by Mr. Reilly, Mr. Miller and Ms. Swinton are just pitch-perfect, all of them. We Need to Talk About Kevin may not be the easiest film to watch, but it’s one that really deserves to be watched, a truly gripping film by a woman with a voice and with a tour de force lead performance by one of the best actresses working today.

Grade: A

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