We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin

****1/2

Reviewed by: Katy Carter

If you have read, and loved, the psychologically rich book by Lionel Shriver, this film will not be a disappointment. If you haven't read the book, you are in for a treat. This film is one of those rare beasts that neither departs from nor trashes the original.

And what a book it is. What a film this is.

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Kevin's Mum, Eva, is the protagonist. She is wading through a broken life. Her house is daubed in red paint, as is her car. She can't get a job. She is assaulted in the street and supermarket by old ladies. But why? And where is her family, which we are shown in flashbacks? All is gradually revealed.

The film absolutely sits alone, genre-wise. I can think of no films like it. It reminds me of Shakespearean tragedies, but brought forth into 21st century America with its guns and family discord. It could be any developed country, but for the US-style school massacre (so tragically prevalent a few years back) it centres around yet thankfully doesn't show. Posters feature the tagline 'Mummy's Little Monster' but I'm not sure the teenage audience, or horror film fan, would enjoy this. This is for the grown ups.

I'm pleased this film isn't a mega big studio affair, distributed in the UK by independent label, Artificial Eye. It could easily have been Hollywood-ised, and more than likely lost the strength and integrity of its point of view, being from the Mother, post-event. It's is a claustrophobic, stunner of a film that shouldn't be missed. The style is deep, considered, slow. The main event has happened, and this is the aftermath.

How could this film be a disappointment with Tilda Swinton? She has such an interesting, androgynous face (something that may have stayed with you if you've seen Orlando) and her acting is totally believable. I think this is the performance of her career.

With the aged, tight-lipped, pinched face of a woman starting over, having been through the unimaginable, the unutterable, Tilda is utterly captivating. The scene where she stands in the street by a power (road) drill to drain out her inconsolable son's ear-piercing screams will stay with you. Eva is educated, well-travelled. It's fair to say motherhood doesn't come naturally to her. Ambivalence gives way to loathing between mother and son over the years.

Giving a fabulously cold, steely-eyed personification of evil is Ezra Miller. You don't see him whole on screen for a while, you see him removing ten bitten off fingernails, one by one, from his adolescent mouth, lining them up on the table in prison in front of his mother. Revolting.

And then John C. Reilly, as the cuddly loveable bear of a father, unfalteringly loyal to his thoroughly dislikeable son, faithful and kind despite the audience knowing better. His displeasure at her second pregnancy is shocking.

There's a line in the book where Eva says they shouldn't have bothered locking their door all those years, letting their son into their lives as they did when he was born. Stylistically, the Lady Macbeth metaphors are overdone, but fitting for the denouement that comes, eventually.

It is compelling to see what happens when there is nothing left, when all you have left is to cling on, when the alternative is probably more appealing and most certainly easier in the face of loathing from every other human you encounter. When evil comes from your own family, how do you process it?

This story is a study in make do and get on with it, where people with nothing keep trudging on in the face of white hot hatred and the cloying shadows of 'was it my fault?' It's also a study in self-punishment. I deserve this. I didn't do it but it happened because I wasn't good enough. I didn't love enough. I was a bad mother.

Lynne Ramsey's cinematic yet austere settings show Eva's inner turmoil. The events are recalled from her memory, but you never doubt her version of events.

See this film. And be prepared for a disturbing reason to re-think having children.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2011
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The much-anticipated film based on Lionel Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel about a mother at odds with her dangerous son.
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Read more We Need To Talk About Kevin reviews:

Sophie Monks Kaufman *****
Jennie Kermode *****

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Writer: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear, based on the novel by Lionel Schriver

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich

Year: 2011

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, USA


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