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We Need to Talk About Kevin

You know you’re in trouble when they wallop you with the Christ imagery in the opening shot. And then a few scenes later the devil enters. Throughout the proceedings, distressed mommy(Tilda Swinton)suffers the trials of Job. Director Lynne Ramsay, so confident and subtle in her helming of “Morvern Callar” almost a decade ago, has seemingly gone off-the-rails after her extended absence. Either that or she’s been reading her bible way too much. Maddeningly overwrought and farcically soaked in red, if it’s meant to be a comedy I still can’t forgive its transgressions. It’s also impossible(especially in a post 9/11 world)to accept the likelihood of the eventual weapon of choice when the nucleus of the plot is finally confirmed. Highly unlikely to the point of ridiculous is the only reaction I could muster. We’ve all matured way too much in the last decade to buy such a scenario. Again, if it’s meant as a metaphor(and I can envision a few)—too bad. I’m just not buying it.               Have we ever met a monster as obvious as “Kevin”? Sure, it’s made pretty clear early on that he mostly only behaves the way he does when his mother, Eva(Ms. Swinton), is the only one present. And that dad, Franklin(John C. Reilly, the woefully miscast half of the most unlikely film couple in recent memory), is a clueless nincompoop. Kevin’s(played by Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell and most prominently by teenager, Ezra Miller)”evil” is so apparent from the get-go that it reminded me of Jack Nicholson’s work in “The Shining”. One look at Jack—even in the opening scenes—and you just know he’s going nuts. It’s my chief complaint about Kubrick’s 1980 release, and I can’t seem to get past it. In her most astute decision, Ramsay recognizes the pitfalls of showing us Kevin’s chronological progression straight through until age fifteen. Instead she gives us a non-linear melange of present day and flashbacks…I think it’s the only way any of this may fly for some. In those flashbacks, Kevin defiantly poops his pants, smears red jelly sandwiches on tables and constantly scowls. Later he refuses to stop masturbating when Eva accidentally walks in on him, and he also may be responsible for his younger sister losing an eye. If you’re thinking “Damien”, you’re certainly not alone. Come to think of it, “The Omen” was more graceful in its execution than “We Need to Talk About Kevin”…and a lot more fun. There are exactly two touching moments between mother and son. One in the movie’s middle portion involving the reading of a children’s book, and then at the end of the film when Kevin briefly bares his soul. These are powerful glimpses and they are impressively handled…I’m not unaware of Ms. Ramsay’s talent or critical reputation. But it’s way too little to make up for the overbearing nature of what surrounds those brief respites.               Tilda Swinton has been a hypnotic, decidedly atypical screen presence ever since first coming to prominent arthouse attention in Sally Potter’s “Orlando” two decades ago. Her Oscar-winning turn in 2007’s “Michael Clayton”, showcased her acute sense of portraying inner turmoil. Tilda demonstrates a great deal of that technique in “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. But it’s difficult for me to attribute greatness to the performance because the character is left with so few places to go. It’s a 120-minute suffering, and I was exhausted by the time it was over. It’s a welcome relief when Swinton’s impressive range was occasionally allowed to peek through, but it is frustrating to watch her simply endure. I’m not saying she made the wrong choices, I’m espousing that she wasn’t given enough to work with. And the teenage Kevin(as embodied by Ezra Miller)barely seems human, right up to his gentle walk and relaxed submission to authorities when all the ruckus is said-and-done. I’m not buying this guy—he’s not a troubled kid, he’s Hannibal Lecter. And the red, red, red, red, red! More than once I wanted to shout, “enough, Lynne, ENOUGH”! I completed Film School 101 in the mid 80’s. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” was a major disappointment for me, and I’m frankly bewildered by its effusive praise.     Grade:  C

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