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Hampered by a script too prone to drastic black and whites and a particularly weak child actor, Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin is nevertheless notable for its unique take on very controversial subject matter and a stellar performance by Tilda Swinton. More often than not a supporting player in bigger films, Ramsay hands Swinton the lead here and she runs with it delivering one of the most emotionally gut wrenching and nuanced performances of her career. Though the year is still young Oscar talk for Swinton has already begun and seems entirely justified.

Eva is a free spirited, independent minded woman - a world traveler who has made a career as an author chronicling her adventures around the world. But her adventures stop when Eva meets Franklin (John C Reilly) on one of her trips and becomes pregnant. Marriage follows, then a difficult childbirth and a move out to the suburbs which she hates to provide a better environment for the child Eva never particularly wanted and seems ill equipped to care for.

So enters Kevin into the world and he is a difficult child. He won't settle. He screams incessantly. He refuses to be potty trained. And he seems to have an innate gift for playing his parents off of each other, convincing his doting father that all is well while openly scorning his mother. It's a tendency that will continue throughout Kevin's entire life until, finally, at the age of fifteen it culminates in an act of horrific violence.

Yes, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a school shooting movie. No, it is not the movie you think it is. For this is a movie at least as concerned about Kevin's family and the consequences of his actions upon them as it is one the what and why of his behavior. This is a movie that dares to ask if maybe some kids are just plain born bad and, if so, what are the consequences of their behavior upon the families who struggled to raise and love them. While it hints at questions of why things happen it is mostly concerned with "What's next?" How do you continue?

Outside of Swinton's performance, this is the film's great strength: That it puts a tragic human face on these larger than life events that seem to have become far too common. It asks how a woman can go on living in a town where she will always be the 'mother of that boy' as she continues to question and doubt whether she may have had a hand in his actions through her own failings as a parent. It's a film that excels when it lives in the gray areas.

And this is what also makes We Need To Talk About Kevin's greatest weakness stand out all the more. Because Kevin himself is not gray. He's black as pitch, though and through, from the moment he is born. You can question whether this is a matter of the film's perspective coming in to play - it is told from Eva's point of view and thus focuses on her difficulties with her son - but Kevin is painted as so malicious and manipulative from birth that it becomes difficult to think of him as a human at all. Instead Kevin slides badly into caricature, which damages the overall impact of the film. Not helping matters is that while Ezra Miller does an admirable job of portraying Kevin in his teens young Jasper Newell is simply not a good enough actor to handle the part of Kevin in his younger childhood. Yes, I'm picking on a child, but those formative years are key to understanding everything that follows and Newell's performance basically amounts to glowering, sulking and shouting while delivering some very stilted lines and that's simply not good enough.

Ramsay deserves credit here for broaching the idea that some kids simply aren't good - a thorny idea that makes many uncomfortable - and that there often isn't a 'why' behind moments of great tragedy. That she doesn't handle it as well as hoped is something of a missed opportunity but, if nothing else, We Need To Talk About Kevin at least reminds us that Swinton is one of the great actors of her generation and the film is worth seeing for her performance alone.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

  • Lynne Ramsay
  • Lynne Ramsay (screenplay)
  • Rory Stewart Kinnear (screenplay)
  • Lionel Shriver (novel)
  • Tilda Swinton
  • John C. Reilly
  • Ezra Miller
  • Jasper Newell
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Lynne RamsayRory Stewart KinnearLionel ShriverTilda SwintonJohn C. ReillyEzra MillerJasper NewellDramaThriller

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