Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

In September, during the Toronto International Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to see a live interview with Tilda Swinton. The Academy Award-winning British actress (Best Supporting Actress for 2007's Michael Clayton) was in town to promote her new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Swinton, and the film itself, had won raves since its premiere in May at Cannes. Tilda Swinton continues to establish herself as one of the bravest and most dedicated actresses working today. After winning an Oscar, Swinton was electric in 2008's criminally underrated Julia and demonstrated flawless brilliance in 2010's I Am Love, which finished fourth in my 2010 year-end rankings. We Need to Talk About Kevin is an adaptation of American author Lionel Shriver's 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. The novel is written from the mother's perspective after her son is involved in a high school massacre. The novel, and the film, will inevitably draw comparisons to the Columbine tragedy, which took place on April 20, 1999. BBC Films acquired the rights to the novel as early as 2005, but Tilda Swinton only became involved in spring 2009. John C. Reilly, a talented dramatic actor (see 2002's Chicago or Carnage, another 2011 film), became attached to the film in January 2010. It is the third feature film from Lynne Ramsay, after the independent films Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002). Ramsay shows deft skill as a director with We Need to Talk About Kevin, letting the actors shine on screen in increasingly frequent moments of shock and horror. The film is shocking and frightening, yet it is not a horror film. In a sense, it is like Pedro Almodóvar's La piel que habito, a story so haunting that it becomes frightening. It is useless to throw more superlatives at Tilda Swinton. She has become an actress, like Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet, whose work is so flawlessly brilliant that it is pure joy to watch her, even in a film so disturbing. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fantastically acted film and Tilda Swinton delivers yet another stunning performance.

In present day, Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) is a train wreck. She looks beaten and weathered. Once a successful travel agent, Eva now lives alone in a rundown house and barely makes ends meet with a menial job at a travel boutique. She frequently visits her teenage son Kevin (Ezra Miller) in prison. Kevin is in prison for his role in a high school massacre. Through flashbacks we see Eva's memories of Kevin's childhood, from the night of his conception to the incident at his school. Eva's husband Franklin (Reilly) was a loving father and husband, and while Kevin was still an infant he urged Eva to move to the suburbs from their New York City apartment. Eva was Kevin's primary caregiver and dealt with the bulk of his anger. As an eight year old, Kevin (Jasper Newell) still wore a diaper because it forced Eva to continue to clean up after him. He showed no sympathy for his mother and eventually Eva stopped trying to a caring and loving mother. Franklin, on the other hand, routinely saw Kevin as a sweet and compassionate child. Kevin and Franklin had the relationship that Eva wished she could have with her son. Franklin is able to bond with his son by buying him a bow and arrow, and with continued practice through his teenage years Kevin becomes an excellent marksman. As Eva remembers the events of Kevin's childhood, one begins to wonder why she visits him so frequently in prison.

Eva Khatchadourian is one of the least glamorous roles Tilda Swinton has ever played, but it is one of her riskiest performances. Kevin may be the world's worst child, but Eva, a self-loathing drunk in present day, would hardly be sympathetic were it not for Swinton's incredible talents as an actress. We Need to Talk About Kevin left my jaw on the ground for the better part of a week. I am not sure if I want children after seeing just how evil and manipulative they can be - being an elementary school teacher makes me crazy enough. Imagine being Kevin's teacher?! Ezra Miller, best known to me as Damian on television's Californicaiton, is a bit too melodramatic as Kevin, but it is hard to care when Tilda Swinton is orgasmic bliss on screen. There is something so spectacularly breathtaking about watching that woman act. It was no surprise when Tilda Swinton was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, against Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn). Amongst these woman, I personally would not vote against Tilda Swinton. We Need to Talk About Kevin is haunting and disturbing, but Tilda Swinton's performance turns a potentially melodramatic thriller into an intense character study.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. You're on a 4 star streak! Maybe the bad film curse has been lifted? Excited for this one...