Thursday, 20 October 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Naturally predisposed as I am to not reading any book that the entire population of any given tube carriage is also reading at the same time (see also The Da Vinci Code, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, One Day), I was blissfully unaware of the contents of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need To Talk About Kevin before seeing the film. I don't want to get into a long and boring debate about whether or not this is a preferable course of action when viewing literary adaptations, but in this instance I was so overwhelmed with disbelief and horror at one of the film's final-act events that I thanked my lucky stars I hadn't gone anywhere near the book.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (the film) unfolds in an initially irritating fashion: it hops between four different timelines like a malfunctioning DeLorean, and although it does well to clearly let you know where (and when) you are, sometimes you just wish it would decide on one timeline and stick with it for more than a minute or two. But when the aforementioned event rolls around, tying up neatly with the film's very first shot, the effect is devastating and the method in the madness becomes clear.

That's just one of the positive aspects of Lynne Ramsay's direction, and I mention it first because I don't want this review to seem too negative, hence my burial of the next bit in the fourth paragraph, which the tl;dr generation probably doesn't even realise exists.

If you are still paying attention, then you're probably the kind of person who will find Ramsay's constant in-your-face symbolism as annoying as I did, i.e. quite. Tilda Swinton spends most of the film trying to clean red paint off her fingers: could it be that she feels like she has someone's blood on her hands? YES. A snapshot of a happier time in her life takes place in front of a massive UPS truck: could it be that this was one of the "ups" of her life? YES. The soundtrack is riddled with songs about mothers or sons: could it be that this film is about mothers and sons? YES, WE GET IT. If the film was any more heavy-handed it would need anti-gravity gloves.

And the red! There's SO MUCH RED in this film. I'm not thick, I know why it's there, but at times Ramsay's insistence on cramming as much blindingly obvious red stuff into her frame is in danger of becoming distracting:
Fortunately the rest of the film, particularly the performances of Swinton and Ezra Miller as the titular sociopath, is balls-out brilliant enough to forgive it its faults. If the 'nature vs nurture' debate isn't really explored in satisfying depth, then at least the almost unbearable tension of waiting to find out how Kevin's sister lost an eye is excruciating enough to make the film an unforgettable experience.

Ramsay has, by and large, done an amazing job here, and We Need To Talk About Kevin will easily be the film on everyone's lips, rather than the book in everyone's hands, come awards time. Whether or not the whole world talking about it makes you want to see it is a different matter, but you can take it from me that you really should.


UPDATE: I wrote this review after several glasses of wine, and reading it back the next day I note that it dwells perhaps a little too intensively on the negatives. Frankly though, I can't be arsed to rewrite it and I'm quite pleased with the anti-gravity gloves bit so you'll have to put up with it. Just to clarify, the film is brilliant. Sorry.


  1. Brilliant write-up. Love the RED picture (especially the Shawshank nod). Questions: Were you also drinking red wine when you wrote this? And, if the film's characters drink wine in the film, is this also Red?
    Keep up the excellent work!

  2. It was white wine, sadly. I've failed at my own gag.

  3. Totes agree with your stance on refusing to read tube books - I don't want the new Fincher film spoilt by reading something idiots keep recommending to me

    More importantly, I am v. impressed by your drunk photoshopping skills

  4. This movie manages to give a little insight into what drives some kids to behavior which in order to avoid a spoiler I would just call anti social. Tilda Swinton has an amazing ability to use her face to silently convey messages in her role as Eva, mother to the disturbed but highly intelligent and manipulative son Kevin. The film was arrowing to watch and left me all a quiver.