We Need to Talk About Kevin

December, 2011, Drama

Directed by:Lynne Ramsay


We Need to Talk about Kevin 

What must it have been like to lose a child in that senseless rampage at Columbine High School? What must it be like to spend the rest of your life as the mother of one of the killers? Watching this brilliant but deeply disturbing film by Scottish writer/director Lynne Ramsay may just produce the most wrenching experience you’ll ever have in a theater. Adapted by Ramsay and co-screenwriter Rory Kinner from a novel by Lionel Shriver, Kevin takes its audience inside the mind of Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) as she grapples with what her son seems capable of. I’ve never seen a movie as capable of producing a sense of impending dread to match this one. 

Working through an extended series of telling flashbacks deliberately fashioned to convey a mother’s chaotic experience of her own life, Kevin traces the life of Eva and husband Franklin’s only son – from colicky infant through tantrum-prone early childhood to ominously withdrawn adolescent. Willful, manipulative and possessed of an unerring ability to play off his doting father (John C. Reilly) against his mother, Kevin subverts every effort Eva makes to get Franklin to face their son’s growing antisocial behavior. The movie traces the life of this sociopath (chillingly portrayed by Ezra Miller) like a slow-moving train wreck, from crib to prison, from parental struggles for control to Kevin’s ultimate nihilistic self-analysis in prison.

 As Eva, Swinton (I Am Love, Michael Clayton, The Deep End) provides another brilliant portrait of a woman swept into situations that began as conscious choices before descended into overwhelming threats. Swinton’s angular, expressive face can wordlessly deliver what would take pages of dialogue to convey; her Eva isn’t a sympathetic character - - she often appears to be an unwilling mother - - but by the film’s end, this beleaguered woman somehow manages to gather the strength to hug her son and then get on with her own life even as he’s finally succeeded in destroying his own.  

 John C. Reilly, (as gifted a comedic actor as can find be found in movies today) initially seems a poor casting choice as Franklin, but Reilly delivers a character who’s willfully ignorant of Kevin’s behavioral problems and deaf to Eva’s entreaties to confront them. Behind Franklin’s superficial affability, Reilly employs his physical blandness to embody a husband and father living in a make-believe world that allows him to avoid facing the uncomfortable realities with which Eva struggles on a daily basis. In a role which could easily have been overshadowed by Swinton’s dynamism, Reilly provides a compelling insight into what the parents of Columbine-like victims must ask themselves every day - - how could any parent not have known what their son was capable of? 

  Be warned; Kevin pulsates with brutality, most of it psychological; but it’s the sense of impending violence which makes this movie so nerve-wracking. As the work of a gifted director and her equally talented cast, Kevin’s certainly outstanding - - but it’s definitely not entertaining in the conventional sense of that word, so see it at your own risk.

 The Verdict? A harrowing examination of human evil as artistically admirable as it is relentlessly depressing.



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