Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MKE Film Fest Reviews: We Need To Talk About Kevin

I was lucky enough to catch the sole screening of Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin a couple weeks back at the Milwaukee Film Festival. I'd read the Lionel Shriver novel a few years back, so I was definitely interested in seeing how it would translate to the big screen. However, enough time had elapsed that I wasn't concerned too much about how that would affect my view of the film.

Kevin is a good film; definitely unique with some great performances, but also not without its flaws. I saw three, in particular. First, is that the film's opening half-hour or so is intensely jumpy in a chronological sense. The film, which shows a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggling in the aftermath of a Columbine-esque act committed by her son Kevin (Ezra Miller), shifts to various points in his development, from conception to young-adulthood. This continues throughout the film, but the plot becomes considerably more linear as it progresses. The opening act the film hurt my head though and I was left frustrated by the lack of dialogue or interaction between anyone during this time. Had I known that this wasn't going to be the style of the entire film, I might have been less annoyed, but hindsight is 20/20.

Issue two is in the depiction of the titular Kevin. Ezra Miller gives a solid, creepy performance as the character in his teenage years (as do the two child actors who play him at other points). However, at times it goes a little overboard, making him out to be preternaturally wicked - like Damian or Michael Myers. This is slightly divergent from the book, where Kevin's idiosyncrasies were a notch more subtle. And even when he's being particularly bad in the book, we are still supposed to recognize that the mother, Eva, is an unreliable narrator, who projects her feelings about Kevin post-incident onto her memories of him as a child. There's no real sense of that here in the film.

Kevin is just an evil psychopath, which I suppose works in its own right if you think of it in an It's Alive sort of way; Eva was never too psyched about having a kid - ergo her child is a monster. However, to me, this makes the film a little more melodramatic than I'd hoped from Ramsay.

Issue #3 is with the soundtrack - simply that I don't think a lot of the musical cues work that well. There are both hits and misses, one hit being this warbled older song that I still cannot track down the name of that's used a couple times throughout the film, but misses certainly outnumber the hits.

Apart from these issues, Kevin is pretty good. Swinton's performance has received a lot of buzz, and rightly so, but she's almost always excellent, so this came as no surprise. As I mentioned, Miller is pretty good and so is John C. Reilly in his relatively subdued role as dad.

The film looks great throughout. It also gives the audience just a taste of what Kevin has done from the get-go, so everyone thinks they already know the extent of it, but also have no idea. My heart jumped with panic a little watching firemen cutting through bike locks on the high school's gym doors - this shot leaves audiences to wonder "what will they find inside?". These snippets elicit some pretty heavy tension throughout most of the film and the ghastly reveals near the end make due on the promises that those tensions suggest.

Though my issues with the film have framed this review, they now seem only minor-to-moderate infractions and I applaud the movie for winning me over despite them. I'd definitely be interested in catching another screening some time in the near future.


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