Based on a 2003 novel of the same name, by Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a 2011 film directed by Lynne Ramsey. BBC Films acquired the rights to the book in 2005 and attached Ramsey after establishing Steven Soderbergh as executive producer. Funded through bvarious production companies including the UK Film Council, the film was released in October 2011 with a small cast, primarily Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller.
Ramsey had not directed a feature film in nine years (Morvern Callar) before We Need to Talk About Kevin, but she has clearly lost none of her eye for detail and story-telling. The camera beautifully captures the highs and lows of family life in middle-America. She has assembled a small, but incredibly talented cast with Franklin (John C. Reilly) impressing in his limited, but important dramatic role. The titular Kevin (Rocky Duer as an infant, Jasper Newell aged between six and eight and Ezra Miller as a teenager), the antagonist to the entire plot is suitably aloof, chilling and malevolent throughout, only briefly lowering his guard and revealing his true nature.
The star of the film is Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) as the mother of the family. She never wholly assumes the role of maternal leader of the family and frequently falls for Kevin's games and tricks. She is also the one who bears the brunt of the aftermath as the film splits its narrative between action after the event and before, culminating in the heart-breaking finale. While Swinton's character is rarely warm or likeable, it is impossible not to engage with someone who is trying so hard to be the mother she thinks she should be. It once again highlights her incredible talent and an Oscar nod must be on the cards.
The colour red plays just as much a part of the film as any of the cast. Whether it's red paint, tomatoes or strawberry jam, the colour permeates almost every frame in the same way that Kevin's influence does. It also foreshadows upcoming events in a subtle, but chilling way. It's an intelligent and well-used device by Ramsey, who uses this recognisably passionate colour to highlight just how little passion Eva has left in her life after the shocking events.
Almost at no point is We Need to Talk About Kevin an easy watch. It's gruelling, moving, chilling and heart-breaking. Whenever the tension is broken through the odd joke or running quirk of fate, Eva and the audience are dragged back to the crushing reality of what her life has become. The question throughout is who is to blame for Kevin's actions and there are nods to it being his nature, his mother's failings as a parent and even video games. The film never shoves one opinion down the throat of the audience and simply leaves all the information there for you to make up your own mind. It's harrowing and beautiful in equal measure and stands as one of the best films in recent years. Everybody should be talking about Kevin.
Rating: * * * * *