First the good news. The cinematography and art direction in We Need To Talk About Kevin were excellent and contributed a lot to the viewing experience. The film was very well shot. Lots of powerful images. (Perhaps some overuse of the color red, however.) And then there was the acting. It’s almost a given that Tilda Swinton is going to deliver a stellar performance. But the real surprise was with the three actors who played Kevin as a toddler, young boy, and teenager. They were all excellent. So often child actors are wooden or just not very good, and this was not the case here. Another thing that thrilled me about the movie was the music. From the honkytonk stylings of Lonnie Donegan, to Buddy Holly and then the Beach Boys, these songs seemed deliciously inappropriate for the content of the scenes, and they took me by surprise each time.
Overall, though, I did not enjoy the movie. But more importantly, apart from my experience, We Need To talk About Kevin is clearly not for all tastes. It’s going to be very polarizing with the viewers. Probably you’re going to either like it or hate it. Eva (Swinton) is married to Franklin (John C. Reilly), and right away there’s a big problem in that John C. Reilly is woefully miscast and his character is not believable as Eva’s husband. She is intense and dark and mysterious, and he’s kind of a doofus. Eva’s relationship with Kevin is troubled, starting with his birth. He is a baby that cries continually and gives his mother a boatload of grief, followed by becoming a child who gives his mother even greater grief, and as a teenager more of the same. Kevin’s evilness is brewing as a toddler, and becomes full-blown as a child and teenager. It’s tremendously painful to watch Eva go through scene after scene with hateful Kevin. She’s presented as powerless to bring any change to the situation. Franklin is blithely in denial, and dismisses Kevin’s behavior with “boys will be boys”. The subtext is that somehow Eva is to blame for Kevin. The movie might have been a provocative discussion of nature vs. nurture, parenting dysfunction, gender roles, etc., if only there had been more story development. But there is a distinct lack of movement, and thus the darkness that relentlessly pervades is not offset by sufficient depth of the narrative. It’s pretty much a one-note story, and we can only wait for the ultimate heinous act by Kevin that is forecasted throughout the movie by a series of flashbacks.
Of course I did not read the book by Lionel Shriver, upon which the movie was based, so I can’t comment on how the screenplay compares to the novel. Lynne Ramsay co-wrote the screenplay and also directed the film. I loved her earlier movie Morvern Callar which featured another wonderful female actor, Samantha Morton. It, too, was dark, but gave back to the viewer with a layered and interesting story.
Okay, I’ve said enough. The movie is difficult to watch and you may or may not think it was worth it. Lots of critics and audiences did appreciate it. I’ll be especially curious to see what comes next for the child and teen actors, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller, and also what Ramsay does with her next project (a western!) starring Natalie Portman. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 5/29/12