Movie Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

Ezra Miller as Kevin, Tilda Swinton as Eva

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Oh yes, let’s indeed talk about Kevin. A film so visually stunning, so impeccably created by director/co-writer Lynne Ramsey, that We Need to Talk About Kevin will take your breath away. (Not that you have much breath to spare, considering the state of sustained suspense that literally, physically spell-binds you to your chair.)

Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, co-written by Ramsey and her husband Rory Stewart Kinnear, the story reveals itself in purposeful bits and pieces as it plays inside the tormented mind of mother Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton), who can’t so much as drive down a street without falling into another rabbit hole of memory. These images are so riveting, these scenes between mother and son so gripping, that we are willingly swept into Eva’s fractured world, our brains blazing with macabre curiosity.

As a non-linear piece, Ramsey allows us to rely on the simple visual cue of Eva’s different hairstyles to guide us to different points along the 19-year timeline. We glimpse a whirlwind romance on rain-swept streets between Eva and Franklin (John C. Reilly), followed by a hasty marriage and ensuing pregnancy. Unlike the other mothers-to-be, beaming at a pre-birthing class, Eva’s glum visage is evident – further illustrated when chirpy little-girl ballerinas cavort past her. Her globe-trotting independence behind her, while she may intuit a problem or two, she has no clue of just how troubling her relationship with Kevin will be. Superbly played by two marvelous young actors (Rock Duer’s toddler, followed by Jasper Newell’s 6-to-8 year-old), the character of Kevin blooms into a fully-malevolent teen, courtesy of a blistering portrayal by Ezra Miller (City Island, Californication). The casting of these three boys is eerily perfect, the “Kevins” all utterly believable in their resemblance to Swinton. Ramsey gives us this dual face-off time and again, whether it be an exchange of faces in a sink of water, or a mother and son regarding each other in three-quarter profile.

Tilda Swinton as Eva, Rock Duer as the young Kevin

Which brings us to the film’s profound issues of mother and child — the guilt, the culpability, the biological bond that straps one soul to another. The clue to Eva’s mindset comes early: In the opening minutes we’re transported to a provincial, overpopulated town square, with peasants throwing ripe tomatoes that land, splatter and drench the crowded frame. Our eye is drawn to the center, where we discover Eva, the subject of the blood-red attack, falling back on the crowd in a crucifixion pose, a martyr in extremis. As the film unfolds, while we may frequently question her decisions (i.e., Why not seek professional help for her child? Why subject herself to frequent degradation?), it seems that this woman can only take one path, no matter how punitive the journey.

Time and again, Swinton has turned in excellent performances (Michael Clayton, I Am Love, Orlando). Here, however, she’s reached a whole new apex. Her rendition of an optimistic young woman, bright-eyed and in love with the world, gives way to her ongoing dissipation as her face sinks inward, her eyes deaden, her life all but sucked out of her. Scenes of her plastering a forced grin on her face as she attempts to appease her infant son are chilling … and later, when the child employs a similarly fake smile to bamboozle his father, we are reminded of where he first learned it.

Ramsey paints every moment of this psychological suspense drama with symbolic specificity. (You may never regard the combination of tomato-red and yellow, a mix-up of ketchup and mustard, in the same manner again.) Each frame is carefully constructed, every sound – what we hear and when we hear it – is the work of sheer genius. As is the Herculean task of editing this fascinating puzzle, the disparate fragments ultimately revealing a horrific whole. Credit must be given to the stellar cinematography and editing by Seamus McGarvey and Joe Bini, respectively.

Even the title is flawless. The character, presumably Eva, is finally broaching the subject of addressing the problem of her son. But it just may be much too little, much too late.

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Rating on a scale of 5 places where the son don’t shine: 5

Release date: January 20, 2012 (national rollout, February 2012)
Directed by: Lynne Ramsey
Screenplay by: Lynne Ramsey & Rory Stewart Kinnear
Based on the novel by: Lionel Shriver
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer
Rating: R
Running Time: 112 minutes

 

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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