The Review: As Marge Simpson once said, “Kids can be so cruel.” Of course Bart, and so many others in his stead, took this as an invitation and immediately took it out on his sister. But sibling rivalry is not uncommon; nor for that matter is a child forming a much closer bond with one parent, or a mother having difficulty coping with a new arrival. But they’re not such common topics for film, and this far into the 21st century it’s still something of a rarity to see a story told from the mother’s perspective. We Need To Talk About Kevin is the adaptation of the award-winning novel from Lionel Schriver which tells the story of a mother’s testing relationship with her son, and her attempts to become a part of his life, but the story is also wrapped up within the consequences of Kevin’s misdeeds.
It’s also a story that was considered by many to be unfilmable, written as it is as a series of letters from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin, and in the novel Eva could be considered to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator. The film adaptation is focused very much on Eva herself; consequently the film has to take a different tack in telling the story, and uses a chopped-up narrative that runs into as many as four different timeframes, but it’s testament to both the directing and scriptwriting skills of Lynne Ramsay (and writing partner and husband Rory Kinnear) that it’s clear at all times where we are. The flashing back and forwards also enables the story to suggest that Kevin’s misbehaviour has reached serious levels, without initially being specific as to what’s happened. Odd clues and hints are dropped in, but the structuring works perfectly to set up a creeping sense of dread which grabs tighter as the movie progresses until it’s exerting a vice-like grip by the end.
The success of the film is also down to two, possibly three, of the cast; we’ll gloss over John C. Reilly, as while he feels a little miscast and tonally in conflict with the rest of the film, but his is purely a supporting role. The main credit goes to both Tilda Swinton, who makes the portrayal of the frustrated mother look as effortless as most of the other roles she’s portrayed and despite the fact that she spends most of the film in some state of repression or frustration, she still comes across as sympathetic and relatable. The other key performance is that of Kevin, and both Ezra Miller as Kevin the teenager and Jasper Newell as the younger version are believably contemptible and deliciously two-faced. It would be easy for the performances to be one-note, but both Swinton and the Kevins get the chance to add shades and variance to their roles in a couple of telling scenes at key points in the narrative.
It may be that you know what Kevin’s done by the time you enter the cinema, as not all reviews have kept the secret, but if you don’t yet know I would advise you to keep it that way, as the less you know going in, the more effective Kevin will be on first viewing. It does feel initially as if Ramsay has gone a little over the top on the symbolism; from a trip to a tomato-drenched foreign festival to a paint attack on her house, there’s a lot of red going on. But as the narrative progresses, the symbolism is scaled back a little and Kevin works as both a thorough dissection of the pains of raising a family and a tense, gripping domestic thriller which will stick in your mind for days after. Thanks to an abortive attempt to bring The Lovely Bones to the screen, it’s been a long time since we saw Lynne Ramsay bring something to the big screen, but on this evidence here’s hoping we see more of her work soon; just maybe with a little less red next time.
Why see it at the cinema: Lynne Ramsay manages to do a lot with an economy of images, and it’s a film that will linger with you well after you’ve left the cinema and are at home asleep in your bed.
The Score: 9/10