We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Review #1,041

Director:  Lynne Ramsey
Cast:  Tilda SwintonJohn C. ReillyEzra Miller
Plot:  Kevin's mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up.  But Kevin is just getting started, and his final act will be beyond anything anyone imagined.

Genre:  Drama / Horror
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Leading Actress (Drama).
Runtime:  112min
Rating:  M18 for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language.

“There is no point.  That's the point.”

The Oscars notably did not reward Tilda Swinton with an acting nomination for her outstanding portrayal of a mother ridden with guilt and anger in the psychological drama We Need to Talk About Kevin.  Swinton plays Eva, a woman based in Paris who finds herself married to an American (played by John C. Reilly).  They move to New York and have a kid, and then another. 

The first kid's Kevin, the subject of the film, or as he puts it, "the context".  The second is his younger sister, who is half-normal.  But being half-normal is so much better than being not-normal, which understatedly describes Kevin (Ezra Miller).  Kevin is an evil boy.  We see him as a toddler, then a child, then a teenager.  Reclusive and seemingly hell-bent in destroying Eva's life, Kevin is every parent's worst nightmare, and then some.

We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the sour relationship between mother and son, and asks questions of the nature vs. nurture conundrum.  Are some people born evil?  Or is it simply like mother, like son? 

Directed by Lynne Ramsay, the picture is best described as a mosaic of short, interruptive scenes, alternating different time periods in flashbacks that function as repressed memories, sometimes seemingly surrealistic dreams, which continue to haunt Eva. 

Because of its many, many mini-scenes that attempt to paint a wider canvas of time, the film doesn't quite build up to the kind of dark, dramatic power afforded by its chilling climax.  Ramsay's film is disturbing, but rarely fascinating.

Only her third feature after Ratcatcher (1999) and Movern Callar (2002), Ramsay's work here may be divisive in that you may be utterly compelled by its haunting quality, or distracted by its fragmented storytelling.  The latter I personally felt affected by, for worse than better. 

Swinton and Miller's strong performances would remain a point of consensus, but while it is a fairly well done psychological drama with elements of horror, it fails to soar with its inherent potential.  However, Ramsay remains a woman filmmaker with a fearless vision, and I look forward to seeing her earlier works, and her next project.

Verdict:  A disturbing portrait of the relationship between mother and son, yet the sum of its parts is sorely lacking in dramatic power.


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