Yeah, there’s clearly nothing sinister about your child.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/09/2011 (LA & NY)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Cast: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer
Rated: R for disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality and language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes


The couch is facing the wrong way if you’re going to keep staring over there.

It’s impossible to know what it must feel like to be the parent of a child who goes on to commit a terrible act and obviously a situation no one should have to endure. However, in director Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, that’s the idea.

Based on the book by Lionel Shriver, the cinematic adaptation sees Tilda Swinton steps into the shoes of Eva, a mother dealing with the grief and shame of her son Kevin’s actions. Ramsay, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rory Kinnear, switches up the manner in how the story is told. Rather than a series of letters written from the mother to her husband (John C. Reilly), the film moves backwards and forwards in time – eventually relating exactly what it is that Kevin did (played in three stages by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell, and Ezra Miller).

There’s nothing wrong in the approach but unfortunately, after the first hour or so, it’s clear what kind of mental and emotional stress Swinton’s character is under. While some of the specific details are still waiting to be uncovered, there’s a monotony to some of the scenes as we’re just shown again and again that Eva sees that Kevin is troubled and her husband is completely clueless. Editing down some of the middle sections would have helped here immensely.

One thing that won’t be receiving anything but praise is the acting. Swinton is always a treat to watch on-screen, as she’s one of the most daring actresses in film today. Here again, she figures out how to strip away the layers of her character and expose the raw nerve. All three of the actors portraying Kevin do an excellent job but it’s the oldest of the trio, Ezra Miller, who gets to act out all the juicy parts and so too go the spoils. However, it’s what he does with the scenes he’s given that single out his performance and if I were his parent, I’d be a bit more wary of the next holiday get together.

Back to Ramsay’s influence on the proceedings, her most obvious artistic touch is the use of red, as the color permeates throughout the entire film. It both foreshadows Kevin’s acts and serves as a shameful reminder to Eva. The editing, disregarding the inability to trim excess scenes, works quite well with the sound design to make the jumps in time seamless and almost dreamlike. Film students will have a ball with the technical aspects going on here, that’s for sure.

But while the acting is impressive and there are some chilling moments, there’s an air of pretension that never goes away in Ramsey’s effort. A 3.5 out of 5, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” feels about 30 minutes too long, as it would have worked better to move forward with a bit more forcefulness and let the story speak for itself, rather than succumb so often to the director’s aesthetic touches. It’s worth seeing for the performances of Swinton and Miller but you’re better off waiting for it to hit the home market than tracking it down in your local arthouse theater.

3.5 out of 5