DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: CANNES 2011 - We Need to Talk About Kevin

Friday 13 May 2011

CANNES 2011 - We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. by Lynne Ramsay
Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller


By Blair Stewart

Tilda Swinton faces terrible labours as a mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay's beautifully flawed return after her 2002 masterpiece Morvern Callar.

To Eva (Swinton), her first child Kevin (played at various stages through youth by Rock Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller) is not a welcome addition to the tidy life she keeps with husband Franklin (John C. Reilly). From an early age the child plays sides between his parents effortlessly, with Eva usually holding the losing hand during the potty-training and spelling lessons stages. We see from her splintered memories of Kevin's upbringing the irksome stare he commands in diapers at a tender age, as if the boy is channelling Vincent D'Onofrio's Pvt. Pyle from Full Metal Jacket.

Kevin acts like a little monster, but surely most kids can be bastards in the playground sandpit. Kevin's ambiguity as a major brat/minor sociopath is out of his mother's grasp, and the film jumbles up Eva's past with her raw present as a subjective bookend to the tragedy of Van Sant's Elephant. Could we be seeing the sum of her mistakes as a parent that lead to disaster, or did she do all that was within her power to steer her supposedly loved child from his deeds?

This is Swinton's film, as the camera locks on her face like sunlight through a magnifying glass baking a crippled ant. There is a moment early on in which Swinton, with a look to an off-screen character, accomplishes more with her silence than pages of superfluous dialogue could possibly accomplish. All that cauterized emotion comes right out of her eyes, and she really is one of the great actors working today. On point and a coup for Ramsay is Billy Hopkins' casting of Ezra Miller as the teenage Kevin skulking about the house. In Millers’ uniqueness, Ramsay chooses to indulge in fetish-like close-ups of his shredded skin and open pores like an insect in the pupa stage, a kind of grotesqueness that would fit well with the fleshy horrors of Cronenberg.

While We Need to Talk About Kevin is heavy material to digest, with the mesmerizing and unexpected opening to the framing of Kevin's actions, it's skillfully made throughout. There's been much acclaim for this film thus far here at Cannes. Where I differ is in the non-linear structure of the story that saps the work of tension. By the middle half of the film, I wasn't engaged with the events as much as I was watching a rockslide gain momentum where the end results were fairly obvious. There's also the niggling issue of why Eva would stay in a town of often broad American caricature in which she is a pariah akin to that of Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, but just as well she could be carrying a mother's great burden into extremity.

Kevin is a powerful view at the nasty before and after of accumulated mistakes.

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