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We need to talk about Kevin is easily one of the most harrowing films
I've ever seen and left me completely empty. Lynne Ramsey succeeds
where so many others dealing with a similar subject matter have failed,
as she abstains from sensationalism and bloody detail. Instead she
focuses in on character and relationship development and breakdown.
Tilda Swinton gives a truly great performance and even though the main thread of the story is clear almost from the start, she and the rest of the terrific cast manage to keep the viewer glued to the screen.
One of the most interesting facets of the film was that it showed how much power children can hold and execute over adults if they are given the opportunity.
We need to talk about Kevin is quality from start to finish and deserves to become a classic. I'm looking forward to seeing many more films by Lynne Ramsay.
Lynne Ramsay's film is a tour de force of economy. There's not a single
shot wasted. Not a moment goes by that isn't informing, telling the
story, adding to the cumulative exploration of a dysfunctional mother-
son relationship and its purgatorial fall-out. It's also a rather
gentle film (dare I say it, a feminine film): the narrative is
constantly split between past and present, the tone moving between
all-pervasive paranoia, drudge and romance. The movement isn't jerky
though, with regular pacing of the flashing back and forwards,
meticulously edited cuts and a very clever original + co-opted
soundtrack that often works in contrary motion to the tone, smoothing
This is a film about a mother confronting motherhood across an overlapping three-act structure: before Kevin's birth, with Kevin, after Kevin's crime. Tilda Swinton is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for her assumption of the role, her selection of uncomprehending thousand yard stares far removed from the opaque look favoured by many other actors working to this level. It helps that the three Kevins who play the title role are all uniformly superb as well - hideous, sly, handsome.
It's the visuals that pulled me up and pressed me back down over and over. The opening 5 minutes or so are worth more than many hours of mediocre film making that I'm perfectly happy to sit through as a general rule in a cinema: the Boschian Tomatina fight, with the equivocal vision of a blissed out Eva buried in the blood red Sartrean- viscous filth is a particularly arresting opening statement (think of the bleaching-white flour of Morvern Callar). It's not an easy watch, although there is no sensationalism. It is, however, always poetry. 9/10
This is quite simply one of the best films of the year. Even the book's
author, Lionel Shriver (a woman) praises the film, calling it 'a
brilliant adaptation'. Being a first-time dad, the story fascinated me.
What happens if you don't love your own child... and they know it?
Tilda Swinton, not normally a favourite of mine, is exceedingly good as Eva, the mum uninterested in maternity. Gravid when she least wants to be (she's career-minded), out pops Kevin, her little Damien. You know from the moment she refuses skin-to-skin things are not going to bode well.
She has no idea how to deal with a baby. Her idea of subduing him is to stand next to a pneumatic drill to drown out his relentless screaming. Kevin grows up knowing he is unloved and demonstrates this through devilish behaviour towards Eva.
Gradually Eva, if not embraces motherhood, then at least gets better at it. Perhaps this is due to her giving birth to her second child, a girl, who Kevin of course hates with a passion. Or maybe the idea of being a mum sinks in, along with the realisation that a career is not the most important thing in life.
Eva's betterments do nothing to placate Kevin: he gets worse. Eva's attempts to complain are met with ridicule by the father (John C. Reilly), who thinks she is delusional. Years of unintentional, but sometimes intentional, neglect take their toll on Kevin, and the film's tragic conclusion seems inevitable.
The origin for Kevin's behaviour has polarised audiences. Did Eva create a monster by failing to form a bond early on? Should she have sought help from professionals if she felt she wasn't coping? Or was Kevin simply a bad seed; an innately evil child who no one could have cured?
Now that I've had the chance to reflect, I think it's unfair to judge son or mother. I'd be surprised if Ramsay wanted audiences to do that. What would be the point? The film is a starkly brilliant exploration of a failed relationship and the consequences that has on a family and an entire community.
If Swinton can win an Oscar so easily for her role in 'Michael Clayton', she should be celebrating her second win now. It's one of those performances which needs months of detoxification and psychoanalysis to move on from. Her acting is matched by new-kid-on-the-block Ezra Miller, who plays her lovelorn son. He brings to his role a controlled ferocity we are not used to seeing. His portrayal works, apart from his first-class acting, because he's not the stereotype. To look at him, you would say he was handsome and ingenuous. But looks are deceptive.
It's hard for people to be repulsed by films nowadays, but there are scenes which will shock. So rare is it to see this kind of film. They vanish as quickly as they appear. I implore you to see this if you can. You'll be moved if not entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film at Telluride by the Sea (Portsmouth, NH) prior to its general release. This is not a film I would choose to see normally, based on its subject matter. However, as a festival-goer, this was what was offered for the late evening screening. This film is visually stunning, and masterfully composed. You know early-on that a Columbine-style ending is inevitable, nonetheless hope that some miracle may yet occur to avert this disaster. Swinton is absolutely magnificent (as always) as the mother desperately trying to cope with raising a psychopathic child, but equally impressive are the performances of the actors who portray the developmental stages of Kevin from early childhood to the brink of adulthood. What elevates this film is the visual and musical narrative that accompanies the initial time-skipping introduction and then the more linear progression of Kevin's growth to its final, terrible conclusion. Interestingly, the emotional crescendo of the film occurs not near the end when Kevin carries out his horrific violence, but rather in the middle of the film at moments when we observe the impossibility of living a "normal" family life with a child who is incapable of feeling or expressing the human emotions that bind us together.
After watching this film twice in two days I can honestly say it is among the most affecting and gripping movies I have ever seen. The use of sound and the wonderful camera work made my hair stand on end. I enjoyed it even more the second time as I was able to make sense of the opening scenes without straining myself, this however is not a criticism; rather it is a testament to the intellect and emotional power of a film where every member of cast and crew excel themselves. Sadness, joy, pain, nostalgia, elation and confusion are just a fraction of the feelings this roller-coaster provokes, and the audience's sheer awe was summed up by the 10 seconds of breathless silence as the screen faded into credits before an eruption of applause broke out.......Astounding.
Greetings again from the darkness. The Brady Bunch, this isn't. It's
also not the place to look for helpful parenting tips. In fact, the
story revolves around Eva, a woman (Tilda Swinton) who apparently
didn't want to have a child ... at least not at this time, and
certainly not THIS child. If you have seen The Omen, you probably gave
thanks that you didn't have a child like Damien. At least we knew
Damien was the spawn of Satan. Eva's son Kevin, is instead a good old
fashioned psychopath. One who has an inherent need to cause pain and
misery for his mother.
What a pair Eva and Kevin make. From day one, Kevin seems to sense his mother's lack of joy in parenthood. And he seems to have a genetic disposition of making her pay. As with many psychopaths, his above average intelligence makes him even more dangerous. He is tricky enough to keep his dad (John C Riley) clueless as to his nature, while causing much doubt in the dad's mind as to the stability of his wife.
My favorite part is actually how director Lynne Ramsay structured the storytelling. It goes beyond non-linear and actually bounces throughout three key periods: Kevin as a baby/toddler, Kevin as a 6-8 year old (Jason Newell), and Kevin as a teenager (Ezra Miller). Each age is progressively more frightening and disenchanting, and the film begins with what is an undetermined catastrophe. This event is slowly revealed over the course of the movie, though we witness events leading up to it, as well as the resulting fallout.
There are a few scenes where Eva is scrubbing the exterior of her house in an attempt to remove the red paint that was purposefully splattered. As a viewer, we understand that she has blood on her hands and she seems resigned to the fact that she is now a social outcast, even a pariah. We spend much of the movie in Eva's jumbled thoughts as she tries to piece together what has happened and why. Of course, there is no answer. The title explains what was missing all along. There was no communication and no willingness to confront the problem ... a psychopathic son. To say they all paid the price is an understatement.
This film has a very limited audience, though my claim is that Ms. Swinton was quite deserving of an Oscar nomination. She wears defeat like a mask and lives in isolation better than most could. Even the music is offbeat and unusual in its use ... thanks to Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. As filmmaking, this is high art. As storytelling, it's a bit muddled and quite a downer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Touted as the "feel-good movie of the year" by those who are most
sarcastic, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" could not be further from the
Golden-Globe-nominated Tilda Swinton, who should have been nominated for an Oscar for this performance over even Meryl Streep, plays Eva Khatchadourian, a woman who never quite connects with her son, who becomes increasingly unstable and savage as he grows older, resulting in a high-school killing spree.
An absolutely disturbing film about the possible outcome of parental disconnect, "Kevin" is an incredibly honest and frightening look at a mother who tries to build a relationship with her son while knowing, deep down, there is really no feelings there at all. Swinton, with her facial expressions and perfect body language, is so incredibly affective and riveting as the desperate mother, both while Kevin is growing up and when we see her life after the massacre. I have difficulty finding the words to express the emotions that her performance stirs as you see how much she suffers while not understanding how a mother could give birth to a child she doesn't love.
Kevin, played by three young actors who look so incredibly alike, it's almost creepy, is so compelling, whether played by a toddler named Rock Duer, a child named Jasper Newell or teenage Ezra Miller, the mere presence of any incarnation of him on screen will make your skin crawl.
The film is so very affecting because most cannot imagine a situation such as this, yet the film is not supposed to be presented as a horror film. There is no supernatural evil at work here. I am sure this happens in real life, hopefully with not such a shocking and truly gruesome outcome. You watch in horror as the lack of emotion from the mother is frightening, yet when you see the actions of this child, you cannot help but have empathy for Eva, even though she almost comes across as unwillingly abusive at times. The film is set up in somewhat jarring flashbacks (which really should have received an Oscar nomination for editing) as you see a completely broken Eva dealing with the aftermath of her son's actions as she reflects on the upbringing of a child who grows into a person without feeling.
No, "Kevin" is NOT the feel-good movie of the year. In fact, it is a difficult film to watch. You should not go see this film if wanting to leave the theatre with a smile on your face. However, as a character study, this film is one of the most affecting that I have seen in a long time, and if there is one actress who was robbed of an Oscar nomination, it is indeed Swinton, who is nothing short of brilliant.
While the idea behind "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is exceptional, I
was put off by the direction of this film. While I know that a
non-linear way of film making is popular these days, it's often
overused--and here it is not used effectively. Too many times, the film
jumps about in time and this took me out of the experience. This makes
the film too unnecessarily confusing--so I am glad that I knew the plot
so I could understand what was happening. Additionally, the film used a
very deliberate artsy style--such as the overuse of the color red (the
tomato fight, the stack of tomato soup cans, the paint)--resulting in
sledgehammer symbolism. For me, the story was very strong on its own
and didn't need all these tricks.
Tilda Swinton stars as a mother of a child who is seriously disturbed. However, her husband (John C. Reilly) is in complete denial and inexplicably the kid is never taken to see a therapist (or exorcist). As the film progresses, the child grows from an Oppositional-Defiant child to a cold and ruthless sociopath as a teen. You never ever hear about how he is perceived by teachers and neighbors--an odd omission. However, including the child killing animals, having one of the parents in complete denial, sexually offensive behavior and the hasty behavior towards his sister are all excellent touches--which I noticed since I used to work with folks like this (which would explained why I eventually gave up being a therapist and became a teacher). Unfortunately, as the film is out of sequence, you already know that sooner or later this will all lead to Kevin committing some atrocities.
Overall, this is a very compelling but frustrating film. I already talked about the film style which left me flat, but I also thought it very odd how the only one who seemed to notice anything unusual about Kevin was his mom. Even clever sociopaths are noticeable--perhaps not to everyone but to only be apparent to one person? Odd... The film is worth seeing but it just misses the mark for me--it could have been great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'We need to talk about Kevin' is a tale of guilt, grief and shame of a
mother (Tilda Swinton) whose son Kevin (Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and
Ezra Miller) has committed an atrocious massacre at his school. Based
on the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver (2003) and directed by Lyne
Ramsey who has been missing from the movie horizon of recent years, a
powerful and excellently constructed piece of cinema is upon us.
The storey encompasses the mothers' outlook on life before, during and after the event. The use of a non-linear time frame allows the film to be constructed in such a way that to those unfamiliar with the original text will be led in one direction of thought as to the characters progression only for the film to turn on its heels and lead you in another direction.
The casting and acting is of paramount importance in a film where the primary relationship between two characters forms the basis of context for the others. Swinton offers an excellent drawn out, confused, guilt ridden mother whereas Ezra Miller as Kevin gives us an unflinching look into the abyss of a sociopath.
The casting of as the father John C. Reilly for me was the only flaw, simply due to his recognisable and somewhat comical appearance, which when compared to the subtlety and non-obtrusive nature of the remaining cast and extras stands out although his performance was strong.
Ramsey's use of symbolism and carefully inserted mise en scene gives those with a more discerning eye glimpses of the details of the emotional frailties evident in the novel but which are often so hard to convert when any literary text makes the transformation into the medium of film, we all know the saying 'the book was much better'. But here the both Lynne Ramsey and Roy Kinnear develop an excellent screen play that will satisfy both those who have read the book and those who have yet to. The sequencing of opening shots in most scenes allows a strong sense of atmosphere to develop even before the characters have entered the scene or dialogue has even commenced.
The overall impact of the film rides through peaks and troughs. With some sections brilliantly gripping and others making you wish away the remainder of the film. In general the film does carry a strong and unsettling momentum until the final credits. For those looking for an action soaked gore fest will be left waiting as will those looking for the docudrama styled film similar to Gus Van Sants' Elephant (2003). The film won't be for all or maybe even for that many, but those who enjoy carefully layered cinema creations will be drawn to this title like a moth to a flame and with good reason.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We Need to Talk About Kevin is certainly a movie that will be every parent and would-be parent's worst nightmare. This movie gained a lot of praise at the Cannes Film Festival and attempts to explore the themes of society, parenting and psychology. Eva Khachaturian (Tilda Swinton) is a middle-aged mother hated by her community and struggling with the aftermath of a tragedy. Her sociopathic teenage son, Kevin (Ezra Miller), has committed a school massacre and she has to deal with the results of the sins of her child and explore how Kevin turned out this way in a dual narrative. After being unable to make her version of The Lovely Bones, Lynne Ramsey turned to adapting this Lionel Shriver novel instead. She delivers a haunting, slow-moving film that looks at the personal and social impact of the tragedy through one person's eyes as well looking at the struggles of raising a troubled child. Ramsey made sure there was a grim, somber tone and kept a minimalist view of the world, yet still adds her own visual flair with intense, slow close ups and red imagery throughout the film to symbolise blood on Eva's hands. There is a deliberately disjointed narrative throughout the movie, cutting from the present to the past as we examine Eva's inability to bond with her son. Ramsey took the bold step to avoid showing any of the actual massacre and most violence is committed off screen. We do not need to see it to understand its impact on people. Nor did we see Kevin's preparations for the massacre: We Need to Talk About Kevin is Eva's story, not Kevin's. But there is a major problem with Ramsay's approach to the story: she seems to ignore the entire concept of nature vs. nurture. Eva being portrayed as a bad mother is outweighed by the way Kevin is shown as practically the product of Satan's loins. Throughout the film, Kevin is always pushing his mother's buttons and made out to be evil from the day he is born. There is no subtlety in his portrayal, even with basic things like reaction shots. We Need to Talk About Kevin should have been more ambiguous, because the whole point of the film is to raise a debate. The audience is not meant to have a clear answer. Swinton's performance was highly praised and she is worthy of an Oscar nomination as her character Eva, who starts off both as a woman at a real low end and her struggles with a child she does not want. She is a disaster of a mum to Kevin as a young child, a child who tests her patience. Swinton was able to bring real depth to her character. When she does make the effort, the damage is already done. Throughout the movie, Swinton plays a tragic and lonely figure who is isolated in some form, a character who is a shell of her former self. Kevin is strongly played by two actors: Jasper Newell plays Kevin as a little brat, pushing his mother with his behaviour and playing Eva and his father (John C. Reilly) against each other. As a teenager, Erza Miller portrays Kevin with a sociopathic and nihilist outlook. He has a sharp mind, but enjoys inflicting pain on others, including his little sister (wonderfully played by the young Ashley Gerasimovich). He is a character who believes in nothing and takes a destructive path as a sinister air is always around him. Reilly plays Franklin as a normal suburban dad, someone who wants to do the right thing for his children. It was a wonderfully natural performance of a man who just sees Kevin's behaviour as being typically boyish. He is very deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod for such a believable performance. There is a permanent, chilling sense throughout the film thanks Ramsay's low key direction and the power of the performance. This is a film that should stick in your head, but We Need to Talk About Kevin should not have been so clear-cut.
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