[Review] We Need To Talk About Kevin

It took two watches for me to finally sort my feelings out for We Need To Talk About Kevin. It isn’t that the film is difficult to understand; it isn’t like that at all. It was more along the lines of ‘yes I like this but certain things are irritating me so badly’. So I figured maybe with a second viewing I could take myself away from what irritated me and concentrate on the other stuff. It worked and while Kevin is a bit of a mixed bag I felt it was a good film overall.
In reviewing this film I’d rather not give out spoilers like I have noticed other reviewers have done. I know not everyone has read the book by Lionel Shriver, and for those like myself who have not it really is better to be in the dark. The story here focuses on Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her relationship with her son Kevin (portrayed as a toddler by Rock Duer, a child by Jasper Newell and a teenager by Ezra Miller). The film shows us Eva now, and uses flashbacks to tell her story about Kevin. We know that a tragic event befell the family and Eva lives alone. The flashbacks slowly fill in the blanks and we are left to ponder the debate of nurture vs. nature in regards in raising a child. Do we create monsters or is it something that will happen regardless? Should the parent be blamed for something their offspring did of their own free will? Is said offspring solely to blame them? Questions like these are raised through out the film, and if anything you’ll certainly be left to ponder them.
There is a lot about this film that worked, the odd narrative structure does take a little bit of time to find its natural flow. The flashbacks aren’t always chronological, yet what is set in the present is. Once you get used to this flow and itself finds its feet it is rather smooth sailing there. The story is told from Eva’s perspective; this is something we understand quite quickly and it is a little daunting to see this from a specific point of view. But it is Eva’s story and by doing this we get a strong understanding of her and how she truly saw her son. The script is well handled and for the most part it was wonderfully shot.

The downside and what became so irritating for me was co-writer/director Lynne Ramsay’s over use of symbolic visuals. After 10 minutes we understand, but in almost every scene there is some sort of symbolic visual (red for example is overly used). It would have been fine toned down and we would have easily gotten the message and the point she wanted to make. On that first viewing I had honestly not been this irritated with something like this for a long time. On that second viewing I needed to separate myself from it, and see beyond it. This issue is either going to work for the viewer or it isn’t.
Performance wise this film has those in spades, Tilda Swinton is fantastic as Eva. She is a fantastic actress overall and rarely does she disappoint; this was a most challenging role and one that placed her almost in every frame of the film. There were many layers to Eva, and layers that are there throughout the different stages in her life. Swinton understood this and embodied Eva at these different stages without letting up. The woman deserves the praise she has gotten for this role, it is well deserved and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. John C. Reilly is another solid actor, and while his role is supporting he makes good use of his screen time as Franklin, Eva’s husband. Their chemistry as a couple is quite natural, through the good and bad times. They felt real, and that was an important element. The three Kevin’s, each actor brought something new to the table, and his own different stages were well handled. Perhaps Jasper Newell had a more difficult task and at times reminded me of the spawn of Satan but it works within the context. Ezra Miller proves that he is a solid actor, and he really is quite great here. He’s a cool young actor, and despite the challenging nature for older Kevin he worked through it.
Aside from the problems I mentioned earlier Lynne Ramsay did a stand up job, there is a lot to like and admire about the film. The switching between present and flashbacks is handled well for the most part; there is a strong attention to detail with it as well. The film is bound to cause discussions between viewers and whether you liked it or not it will get you talking and it will get you thinking. This in my opinion is never a bad thing, and I can safely recommend this film.

Rating:

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4 thoughts on “[Review] We Need To Talk About Kevin

  1. As I heard your response before i saw the film I was expecting this film to be rather frustrating; as I knew the content of the book before seeing the film I was also expecting it to be rather unpleasant but I was surprised to find that it was neither and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

    Given the content I guess I was expecting to be more emotionally engaged than I was; The third member of our crew even wondered aloud whether he might shed a tear throughout, but there was never any chance of that.

    I certainly liked the film – it got to me on other levels and was flawed in different ways but overall was very well made – but missed that gut punch that even something comparatively light like 50/50 had in spades.

    Were you the same? Or am I just an over-calloused child of the occult like Kevin?

    • It was difficult to find sympathies for any character, Kevin is portrayed as the spawn of Satan. Eva is so distant and depressed, and Franklin comes off as the clueless one in the family. I liked the film and like you it definitely affected me on other levels but come the end it doesn’t pack that emotional punch you might be expecting.

      50/50 while completely different had me in tears all the way through, whether it be from laugh or just genuine touching moments.

      • Yeah, 50/50 is probably a poor example but it was just the first thing to come to mind when I searched my memories for the term ‘Emotional Response’. I too was in its grip the whole way through, being dragged from feeling to feeling (though not in a forced of exploitative way) whereas Kevin only managed some short, sharp hits through the screen.

        The slap and the even more devestating friendly smile from the families and friends in the town hit pretty hard, as did one or two shots from the finale that I will say no more about, but it never really gathered enough momentum to truely get at me. Maybe if Ramsay had taken half the time she spent shooting red objects and disgusting items exiting lips (subtle?) and used that to further flesh out the story then I would have cared more.

        The notes she knows are good but she had overused them all by the halfway mark and it never really goes anywhere new from there, unless you count the Christman party and the less said on that the better.

  2. I agree with you on those points definitely. I do think Ramsay spent too much time using red and other such visuals when she should have fleshed things out more, especially on regards to feeling something for those involved.

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