Hey, it’s somehow John C Reilly week here on The Film Dump so here’s my second John C Reilly starring film of the two I happened to get from Lovefilm, We Need To Talk About Kevin. OK, so it’s not really John C Reilly week. That isn’t really a thing. Was kinda random how I got this and Carnage at the same time though. True fact, I’ve never seen Step Brothers. Or Cyrus. People rave about them but instead of getting myself copies I was probably watching something like Chanbara Beauty or playing World Of Warcraft. Should I add those films to my Lovefilm rentals list? Post a comment on my webzone. Don’t forget to like The Film Dump on Facebook and follow me on Twitter! Can you tell that I’m just filling out this intro paragraph? Click the jump for the actual words that compromise of my review for We Need To Talk About Kevin!
In We Need To Talk About Kevin Tilda Swinton plays Eva Khatchadourian, the mother of the titular teenager Kevin (Ezra Miller) who has recently taken it upon himself to launch an attack on the students at his high school. It has been some time since the shooting and Eva is now living on her own in a small house and is struggling to find a way to live her life as she is bombarded by hatred from the townsfolk and has grown increasingly afraid of the intentions of people around her. The film takes a very non-linear approach to it’s storytelling by skipping back and forth between Eva now, as she searches for a job and meaning behind her sons attack, and with her experiences raising the sociopathic Kevin.
This structure is a brave approach to take with such a story but it is really the only way you could piece this story together without it being a goal focused plot in the traditional sense. This film isn’t about Eva moving on with her life so much as it is her trying to understand. There’s no real moving on for her at this stage. She has to live with the appalling actions of Kevin and the, quite frankly, hideous reactions of the people around her. The film is based on a book of the same title by Lionel Shriver. In the book the story is told via a series of letters from Eva to her husband as she tries to figure out how they went wrong with their son and why more wasn’t done when he clearly wasn’t a normal child. Obviously watching someone write letters in a film is a boring as an all Coldplay music marathon on the radio. Director Lynne Ramsey is smart enough to not do a straight literal translation of that aspect of the book though. Instead, in a near dream like style, the film moves through Eva’s day to day life and her memories of the past utilising some very effective transitions to move you from one time frame to another without breaking the emotion of the scenes. To be fair the overarching emotion in this film is depression with odd moments of horror or tension so the transition would never be that jarring.
Tilda Swinton gives the sort of performance you can expect from her. Her ability to look frail whilst displaying her character inner turmoil is used for much of the film. She can play a strong willed female lead but she isn’t so vain as to think that’s all she should play. Here she gives what should be considered a attention grabbing and very internalised performance that deserves all of the 8 Best Actress awards she won and the 16 nominations also received. For much of the film she is the only character in a scene and the fact she’ll hold your attention, with the help of some very confidant direction from Ramsey, shows just how good she is at this job. She’s not the only one pulling out great performances though. A lot of buzz was made around Ezra Miller’s performance as Kevin, and very good he is too. He pretty much embodies that fear many parents have that their son isn’t quite right. When he turns up the evil in his portrayal I don’t think even Damien from the Omen would want to hang out with him.
Some real credit needs to be given to the young lad that plays the 6-8 year old Kevin. His name is Jasper Newell and the kid is a little nightmare. This is a kid that’s done nothing but children’s television prior to this. He’s never had a role that comes close to being complex or anything other than smiling like a loon and being cheery, and yet here he is playing what could only be described as the bastard spawn of Satan. For a child his age it’s kind of scary just how naturally he played his role.
As the film move along we’re not shown the full horror of what Kevin did until the films final act. We know what he has done but how he reached that point and the extent of his attacks are left just out of shot, like they’re Eva’s memories that she doesn’t want to revisit. She visits Kevin a number of times in the juvenile detention centre he’s being kept in and in these scenes we see his lack of remorse. As a child he taunts his mother by acting like the perfect son in front of his father Franklin (John C Reilly), he does this from an early age showing just how much of calculating character he is. Occasionally he bonds with Eva briefly and these scenes play with any hope you might have that he might not be all bad. In the latter half of the film though you’ll have lost any of those thoughts and will be dreading any moment he is around his younger sister. This is because early on you see that she has an eye-patch on. You know something bad has happened but you’re not sure what, in fact you’re never sure what. The way that event plays out is such that you’re not sure if Eva or Kevin is to blame. The film is constantly juggling all these elements of blame and the nature of depression and pain that you as a viewer may find the whole experience a little tiring due to just how unrelentingly those themes are played out.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a very well crafted look at depression and the repercussions of a horrible event. The sheer level of nastiness displayed by the people around Eva does make you wonder if people really can be that mean to a woman who’s clearly suffering but it’s not enough to take you out of the realism of the film’s story. I’d like to find out if the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were targets of hatred in a similar way after their sons decided to go on a rampage at Columbine. The film manages to look at finding the rationale behind such actions whilst never saying this is exactly why someone like Kevin would do this. His actual reasons are never mentioned. Even he doesn’t say why. There is one scene where he’s playing the worst sounding Nintendo 64 game imaginable whilst shouting “DIE DIE!” as an 8 year old child, which makes me as a gamer feel that that scene is the slightest bit clumsy in terms of context. That scene isn’t played out as an excuse though, just a foreshadowing. The only other scene where we see him using a computer of any kind is when we learn that he collects computer viruses. When asked what the point of collecting them is he replies “There is no point. That’s the point.”. This is the closest we get to a reason why he would kill.
Overall this is a tough film to fault. It has a few slightly forced feeling moments but nothing that damages the film in a real way. The direction is assured and confidant. Performances are strong throughout, especially from Swinton and the actors playing Kevin. The film is edited together like it’s a dream-like haze of memories which suits the story format very well. Music is provided by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead fame and it paints an unsettling sound-scape to the tough subject matter. We Need To Talk About Kevin manages to stay the right side of art as intelligent cinema, never slipping into art as visual, self serving wankery. Definitely worth a viewing if only for the strength of the casts performances and the way it depicts depression in a realistic manner never once shying away from the internal pain Eva is going through. Not all dramas have to be littered with jokes, it’s nice to see one that avoids this trap of modern drama entirely.