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We Need To Talk About Kevin—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
January 20, 2012 12:30 AM
13 Comments
  • |
Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin
Oscilloscope Laboratories

To say that this is not an easy film to watch is putting it mildly. No one would deny Tilda Swinton’s superior performance, but people were sharply divided when We Need to Talk About Kevin screened at the Telluride Film Festival last fall. Some folks I spoke to were downright angry. When I finally caught up with the film, I could barely stand to sit through it.

Why? This is the story of a “bad seed,” a demon child who torments his poor mother from infancy through adolescence, while the father (played by John C. Reilly) remains blissfully unaware of his son’s malevolent nature. As a parent, I found the child’s hostile treatment of his good-hearted mother almost unbearably upsetting. And it never lets up.

It didn’t help that I had read a one-line synopsis that told me the outcome of the story. If you don’t know where it’s leading, you might derive some suspense from the narrative, adapted by Rory Kinnear and director Lynne Ramsay from Lionel Shriver’s novel, even though it is told through fragmented flashbacks. For me, knowing the ending—which I won’t give away, just in case—made me all the more impatient to get there and get it over with.

Tilda Swinton John C. Reilly
Oscilloscope Laboratories

Trying to remove my personal feelings from the equation is difficult. I’m able to appreciate the quality of Swinton’s deeply-felt performance as a woman who feels suffocated by circumstance. Director Ramsay certainly wrings every drop of unease she can from the material. (Why would someone be drawn to this kind of story in the first place? I can’t imagine, though I wasn’t crazy about Ratcatcher, Ramsay’s highly-vaunted debut film, either.)

Others have heaped praise on We Need to Talk About Kevin, and they’re entitled to their opinions. I can only be honest in describing my reaction: watching this movie was sheer torture.

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13 Comments

  • Patrick M. Gouin | March 5, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    Other than mothers whose children are already fully grown and did so without too many pitfalls, I would not readily recommend this film to other women. This film takes us in the skin of this woman who brought a monster in the world named Kevin which she alone can recognize for what he is and at the same time cannot refuse him all of her devotion and her hope, in other words her love. Probably for original effect, the story is presented in continual flashbacks, zigzagging between four periods of Kevin’s life and consequentially, that of his mother Eva, also. There is Kevin the charming toddler, the skillful teen, the dark young man and the condemned adult. The magnitude of his disorder is revealed in layers ever so slowly. All in all an efficient film on a taboo subject.

  • Tina B | February 6, 2012 8:27 AMReply

    The director, and especially the editor, took Shriver's brilliant book and made an ungodly mess of it! Why they didn't use Swinton's voice to narrate the movie is the first mistake, followed by so many others. What's with the film school symbolism? How about showing us the main character with a glimpse of her enjoying her career before the tragedy instead of throwing her under the bus with the fat people comment. How many times does one need to see splattered blood to get the point? And the bit with the eggshells, please. Bad, bad decisions from the get-go.

  • Mark Gutteridge | January 30, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    See the short that accompanied We Need To Talk About Kevin UK release here: http://vimeo.com/28242781
    curzoncinemas.com/library/films/2154/assessment/

  • Greg B | January 28, 2012 4:27 PMReply

    'We Need to Talk about Kevin' was unsettling and deeply disturbing at times, but I think a story of its kind cannot avoid being unsettling and disturbing, especially given the nature of the disconcerting structure and harrowing conclusion.
    For me, what is truly frightening about the film is the fact that there are people in the world just like Kevin - detached, unemotional, uncaring, psychotic. Sure, the film is a not based on real events, but its characters and plot reflect the people and stories we read about in the news. Therefore, to be put off by the film and wish instead for more emotionally rewarding cinema is to be put off by what happens in the real world and wish instead for an idyllic life - surely an undeniably naive dream. There is evil in the world and 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' forces us to acknowledge it and hopefully talk about it.

    PS: @ BARRON
    "When used properly, chronological disorder can be very artistic and help in the unveiling of the story. In this blunder, it is used because the plot line is weak and uneventful."

    Though Tilda Swinton's character is not the narrator of the film, we see the film unfold through her eyes and so her view of the events becomes the narrative. Perhaps then the chronological disorder employed is used to make her character's view of the events unreliable, since the same character of the book is supposed to be an unreliable narrator. I don't think the chronological disorder was used because the plot is weak or because it is uneventful. In any case, the film is essentially character-driven, and so the eventfulness of the plot is irrelevant.

  • Chris H | February 4, 2012 6:32 AM

    Greg B: That was an insightful comment on the use of chronological disorder to convey the subjective state of the lead.

  • CynicalCritic | January 23, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    Although most people might see this film as just another "bad seed" story, it's actually a quite damning statement about parenting and those crucial stages when a mother needs to bond with her baby as it develops its social behavior.

    Kevin may seem like a "a demon child who torments his poor mother from infancy through adolescence", but the film questions her blame, as she never made an effort to bond with her child. She never picked him up; she never rocked him; she strolled him near a construction worker actively drilling the ground just to drown his cries. I'm not sure that I blame the child for growing to resent her. Then, when she does try to connect - too little, too late - she only gets frustrated by his resistance, furthering the degradation of their relationship.

    Granted, the child may have been wired to be evil but, perhaps, had his mother given him the motherly attention he needed at that critical development stage, he would have turned out less so.

  • David Green | January 20, 2012 9:57 AMReply

    This film is a piece of turd for sure but this review is very inarticulate and suprisingly so. A friend remarked when we finished this flick "the film is called We need To Talk about Kevin and we talked about him in the first five minutes. He's evil, she's ineffectual as a mother and dad is a moron, why did we need to see that go on for another hour and 25 minutes?"

    Boring, laughable, the film is so insistent with it's point of view about the absolute evil of this boy that it shreds every bit of credibility 5 mins in. How is it possible that in the year 2012, anyone can sell the notion that evil is some snarling obvious thing? Some brown eyed, dark haired suburban kid with a snarled face and don't forget the Americana soundtrack, that seals it, EVIL incarnate. It's beyond ridiculous.

  • kchan | February 10, 2012 9:39 PM

    This is a sober evaluation.

  • Audra | January 20, 2012 3:08 AMReply

    You disliked Young Adult and this film... I take it challenging material is not your style. Stick with My Week with Marilyn.

  • Prof Dave | January 20, 2012 9:26 AM

    Well put Audra, this is a deeply psychological movie and Tilda Swinton, Lynne Ramsay, and Ezra Miller all knocked it out of the park. If you're not left thinking about this movie and its characters long after seeing it, you've missed the point of this picture. www.moviecriticdave.blogspot.com/

  • Patrick | January 20, 2012 2:00 AMReply

    Can't wait till you get back to writing actual film reviews Leonard!, you seem to have copied and pasted some sort of journal entry in the place of this one. I am perplexed that you can get away with writing such an un-insightful waste of space as this. A perfect example of the sad state of film criticism today. James Agee and Pauline Kael are howling from their graves.

  • Barron | January 20, 2012 2:37 PM

    I'm sorry "professor," but this movie is not deep. The performances were acceptable, but the only reason that anyone would think about this failure of a movie is to explain to others why they should not torture themselves for an hour and a half. Once the horrible nature of Kevin is established, the films ensuing action is predictable and weak. When used properly, chronological disorder can be very artistic and help in the unveiling of the story. In this blunder, it is used because the plot line is weak and uneventful. This movie is like a car-crash: terrible to watch but you look to see how awful it can be.

  • Jeffrey | January 20, 2012 1:05 AMReply

    All praise to Maltin for rejecting this unholy film.

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