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We Need To Talk About Kevin



Released: October 21st 2011 (UK)

Directed By: Lynne Ramsay

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly

Certificate: 15 (UK)

Reviewed By: Jason Coyle

Director Lynn Ramsey could be forgiven for thinking that her films were jinxed. Her two previous filmsRatcatcher and Morvern Caller were both critically acclaimed but little seen outside the festival circuit. There followed the exhausting saga of her development of a film based on Alice Seebald’s The Lovely Boneswhich was stalled and eventually taken over by Peter Jackson (his adaptation led to universal indifference the world over). With this in mind, there must have been a temptation to run for the hills from another adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel, this one being Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. To her credit, she has turned the book into a superbly crafted film and will surely mean thatHollywood will come knocking on her door before long.

We Need to Talk About Kevin tells the story of Franklin (John C. Reilly) and Eva (Tilda Swinton) who move fromNew York to the suburbs when they have a son Kevin (Ezra Miller. The film dispenses with the novel’s structure which took the form of letters written by Eva toFranklin after a school massacre, planned and executed by Kevin, has taken place. In its place is a stylistic backwards and forwards structure which pieces together the life of the family from before children came along to the point where Eva is living in a ramshackle house on her own.

Eva is a travel consultant living the life inNew Yorkbefore becoming pregnant. Kevin is born and before long they are living in a huge house in the suburbs. The central theme of the film, nature versus nurture plays out during Kevin’s upbringing. This raises questions about whether children can be born ‘bad’ (Kevin in this instance) or whether it is Eva’s resentment of the domesticity that causes it. We see Eva frustratingly haranguing a young Kevin who is crying, saying things like ‘Mommy was happy before you came along’ and ‘Mommy would now be living in France’. What this really amounts to is that Eva doesn’t like Kevin and Kevin knows this, so in turn doesn’t like her. There is another child born, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich) after they move. In some ways this birth gives Eva the reciprocal love she is denied with Kevin. The Eva of this time is contrasted with the Eva in the small house at the end of the film scraping by in a badly paid job and being vilified in a town that blames her for the massacre. She is verbally and physically abused by grieving parents who lost children in the massacre. Her house and car are being repeatedly vandalised.

The cast are almost uniformly excellent, with particular praise going to the actors who play the children. John C. Reilly is ok but he seems so underused in a role so thin they could probably have cast anyone. Ezra Miller deserves special praise for his portrayal of a teenage Kevin, his malevolent eyes showing that he is older and wiser than his years. Swinton is to some degree as superb as she always is. The scenes of here walking around the town in the aftermath of the tragedy are electric, as she tries to make her tall frame almost disappear so as not to be abused. And yet it is a detached performance. At no point do we really feel the pain that she is in. We see it in her eyes but crucially we do not feel it. This is the one major flaw in an otherwise excellent film. This lack of feeling really stands out during the climax of the film when the audience should be hit with a sledgehammer but somehow are not.

There is terrific work by Irish cinematographer Seamus Mc Garvey who bathes the screen in lurid reds throughout. We see Swinton scrubbing red paint off her home and car at various times and it seems that she has, literally, blood on her hands throughout the film. The film also successfully touches on themes such as the dulling conformity of suburbia and the dangers of thinking your kids do not know what is going on. There is a scene where Franklin and Eva are discussing their marriage which Kevin overhears.Franklintells him not to worry about things he hears out of context. ‘I am the context’ is Kevin’s weary and knowing reply.

Overall, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a very impressive film. Dark and troubling it raises all kinds of interesting and taboo questions about parenting. For these and some of the outstanding visuals it is worth seeing in the cinema. If only it packed more of an emotional wallop we may be talking about a modern classic.

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