We Need to Talk About Kevin (***)

we need to talk about kevinIf you were to ask me about my thoughts on ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ directly after seeing it back in September, I would have said that it was one of the biggest disappointments of 2011 (besides ‘The Tree of Life’ and ‘Attack the Block’) for me. Stewing over it some more, I’ve come to find that the pluses outweigh the minuses here.  I still think that I like it less than almost all of the other Oscar pundits, but the excellent lead performance by Tilda Swinton and the unsettlingly good turn by Ezra Miller (he’s actually the film’s highlight in my eyes) supersede co-writer/director Lynne Ramsay’s filmmaking missteps.  It’s a love it or hate it type of direction she takes, and if not for Swinton and Miller, I might be leaning to towards the latter.  When it comes to the acting, the film is rather top notch for the most part.  When it comes to the writing and the directing, however…it’s a whole other story.  Too flawed to be the masterpiece that the reviews out of Cannes suggested, this still is a unique enough take on familiar material to be worth the recommendation from me, even if it’s not quite on the level as a somewhat similar film from earlier this year called ‘Beautiful Boy’.  Still, the pros outweigh the cons here.

A rather impressionistic take (in my eyes at least) on parenting and tragedy, the story follows Eva (Swinton) some time after an important event.  We don’t immediately know what it is, only that people are shunning her and dousing her car and house in red paint.  As she goes about her day to day life in a sort of fog, we flash back and forth to other events in her life, including meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), the birth of her son Kevin (Ezra Miller as the teen, Jasper Newell in childhood, and Rock Duer as a toddler), and her issues bonding with him.  As he grows older, he seems to get more and more troubling in his behavior, as well as increasing in his distaste for Eva.  By the time he’s a teen, he’s frankly become pretty damn evil.  We now realize that Kevin has committed a horrible crime that the town blames Eva’s parenting for, but until the final scenes we don’t quite know how bad it is.  And trust me…it’s bad.

We need to Talk About Kevin 4I freely admit that Tilda Swinton doesn’t always wow me as much as she does many others, but she’s excellent here…perhaps doing her second best work to date (for me, her topper is in Tim Roth’s film ‘The War Zone’).  She’s incredibly vulnerable here, looking at times almost like a zombie, paralyzed by events she sees as being beyond her control.  Swinton is always good, but she’s exceptionally strong here, getting under the skin of the character and questioning if she’s to blame for the deeds of her son.  Matching and perhaps exceeding her is Ezra Miller, who radiates terror as the bad seed son.  Both Duer and Newell do their parts, but Miller really goes the extra mile in a fantastic way, crafting a truly terrifying character in what amounts to only a medium sized part.  The scenes between Miller and Swinton are like chess matches, with more at stake than you think at first.  Swinton might be too subtle for an Oscar nod, but Miller is incredibly deserving of one.  He’s one of the better young actors working today.  Though the screenwriting lets them both down at times, their acting skill keeps things afloat.  Without these two performances, I can safely say that I wouldn’t have cared much for this flick at all.  John C. Reilly is fine, but he seems slightly out of place in the film.  The cast more or less begins and ends with the tag team of Miller and Swinton, who both go above and beyond.

Lynne Ramsay has never done much for me as a filmmaker, and her she doesn’t exactly change my opinion.  At first some of her artistic choices as director are interesting, but she overplays her hand and it becomes distracting, especially the theme of Red.  It’s all red, all the time, and it gets pretty annoying by the third act, when it’s most important.  Also, she elects to unfurl the plot out of sequence, which is fine…except for the odd times she decides to move in sequence.  It’s an inconsistency that bugged me.  On the script side, Ramsay and Rory Kinnear (basing this one the novel by Lionel Shriver) fragment the story in a way that limits its effectiveness.  I applaud them for doing something a little bit different than the premise would suggest, but it wasn’t enough in my eyes.  A better screenplay or more steady direction would have been welcome here, but luckily for Ramsay and her puzzle like film, her actors save this.

‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is a film that I’m ultimately recommending for the acting, but bear in mind that I wasn’t nearly as impressed as just about every other critic around the globe was.  Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s not.  I think that you should check this out when it opens and decide for yourself.  I know I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but it’s happened before and it will no doubt happen again.  Two wonderful performances elevate an otherwise mediocre movie here, and if you can handle the flawed nature of it, you should leave the theater sufficiently moved by Swinton and horrified by Miller.

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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Was this the big Oscar Contender that had the embargo?

Jessie Makowski

Rotten Tomatoes has it almost with perfect reviews…interesting.

Robert Hamer

Very discouraging news, especially considering the promise Ramsay displayed with her first two features Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. I hope her command of sound and imagery has in fact not diminished and you and I simply respond to it differently.


I see your point but then by now I have come to agree that Ramsay is a very polarizing director. I personally loved the way the film was unsteady and in many ways deliberately inconsistent. That worked for me. But then I guess to each his own. This is not the kind of film that everyone will love. It’s sad that Swinton will not get any awards notice for what I consider the finest acting by a female actor this year (upto now). Hopefully they will at least reward someone deserving and not go for A Blind Side catastrophe again.

Robert MacFarlane

I had a feeling Miller would be the standout.

Martin Unger

When does this one come out? I’ve seen Beautiful Boy and would like to compare…


Just saw it and I largely agree, though liked it a bit more than you. I’m not keen on Ramsey either, as a die hard fan of Samantha Morton Morvern Callar was hard going. Once again here there were too many artwank touches that were infuriating, but I feel after the first half hour the film eventually found its groove. I don’t agree that Miller (who was very funny at the q+a) was the standout but he was very good, and Reilly was superfluous/underwritten. I wasn’t big on Swinton either till recently, but she was brilliant here. She’s been snubbed… Read more »


* about all the red



Trailer: “The Avengers”

Beautiful Boy (**½)