MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a haunting, twisted family drama based on the book of the same name by the androgynously named female author, Lionel Shriver. It’s a real emotional doorstopper of a book, horrific and equally disturbing that continues to echo long after the last page is finished. It’s a difficult book to adapt, written as a series of letters from Eva to her former husband, Franklin, looking back on memories, mistakes and past and current horrors.
I’m reluctant to give away much of the plot because the film takes a while to explain exactly what brought Eva’s life to where it is. What you can know is Tilda Swinton plays Eva, a woman living a squalid life on her own as a social outcast as the film frequently flashbacks to her former family life. The flashbacks are so inter-changeable with the present, it wouldn’t be surprising for some viewers to occasionally feel slightly lost, not helped by the lack of effort afforded to making Eva and Frankilin (John O’Reily) look younger. However, the casting of Eva’s son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), aged from toddler, to child, to teenager is perfect and entirely believable as the same child at different ages. In her former life, Eva struggles to connect with her isolating, frightening son. In her present life, Eva lives as an outcast, assaulted in the street by strangers. The film puts both pieces together.
The film might not have quite the same emotional ferocity as the book as it’s unable to verbalize Eva’s loneliness and desperation in the same literary manner but instead does it through silence leaving a lot up the viewer to absorb. The film doesn’t play it’s nature versus nurture theme quite as hard as the novel but leaves more up to audience interpretation to find an answer. There’s lots to admire about the way the story’s told. It would never contain the same poignancy if it was interpreted as a linear story but the time shifting provides reflection and contrast, which juxtaposes beautifully with Eva’s present existence.
Tilda Swinton is fantastic and remains on screen throughout the whole movie. You can imagine each actor’s delight being cast in such chunky, dramatic roles. It must be like a dream. Ezra Miller is perfect as the scowling, teen Kevin. He’s clearly got a big future and alludes the necessary disregarding menace required for such an off-the-wall portrayal of a disturbed and disturbing teen. There’s a real quiet desperation to Swinton’s character which is as enthralling as it is incredibly uncomfortable. The film’s tone is so ominous and Director Lynne Ramsey frequently focusses and unfocusses shots which has the effect of giving the film an almost dream like feel of belief and disbelief.
If I’m entirely honest, it didn’t echo quite the gargantuan emotional gravitas as the book, but nevertheless succeeds in adapting a tricky novel to an effective screenplay. We Need to Talk About Kevin is directed delicately, takes a lot of deep breaths, and what comes out is an icy, icy horror of family tragedy.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is out now in the UK and out on 27th January in the USA. Running time: 112 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
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Review by David Rank