Film Reviews

We Need To Talk About Kevin Lynne Ramsay

Rating - 5/10

I seem to be the only person in Christendom who thought Lionel Shriver’s 2005 book, We Need To Talk About Kevin, was shallow, manipulative and as deluded as it was ludicrous. People kept telling me it was "heavy", packed a "devastating emotional punch" and "asks a lot of difficult questions". It really doesn’t. The structure of the book was my biggest problem: styled as a confessional, told through letters but presented as a twisty thriller. This leads you down the garden path, before you come to realise that despite its weighty allusions, Shriver has simply pulled the wool over your eyes – in the cheapest possible way – and the book has absolutely nothing to say at all.

Despite that opening gambit, I was actually really looking forward to the film adaptation, directed as it is by the supremely talented Lynne Ramsay, whose film Ratcatcher is one of the best British Films of the last twenty years. It also stars Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, who are great in everything, and off the back of its festival run, WNTTAK (catchy) was being talked up as one of the year’s best films.

Well, I am happy to report that the film is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the book in the respect that it is rubbish.

Eva (Swinton) and Franklin (Reilly) have a son called Kevin (various, although for some reason he’s Hispanic as a child…) who grows up to murder a lot of people in his school gym. As a teen, Kevin is played by the unfeasibly attractive Ezra Miller. Something is wrong with that equation. Very wrong. Can’t put my finger on it…

Anyway, Kevin is evil, or at least his mum thinks so. That’s because he does evil things. But is she just remembering it differently in the light of the massacre? Is she an unreliable narrator? Is her husband just not seeing it? It’s hard to answer any of these questions with a straight face as in both the book and the film, Kevin is presented as being so preposterously devilish, he may as well have horns and a tail. By the same token, Franklin is such a dimwit, he stretches credulity way beyond the limits of credulity’s tensile strength.

As such, it is hard to take the film very seriously when two of the central characters are painted with such broad strokes. This is a shame, because a character as good as Eva deserves a credible arena in which her story can play out, it just isn’t this one. Another of my beefs with the book is that the logistics of the massacre itself are highly implausible. The film makes this more so, changing Kevin’s weapon of choice from crossbow to longbow. Yes really. A longbow. With it, Kevin brings Agincourt to the basketball court, which is a joke that works on at least two levels.

When the film is presented in such serious fashion, not being able to take it seriously is a bit of a problem. Its a shame, as there are places in which the film is pretty good. Swinton is exceptional throughout, as is Miller. The editing is fantastic and Jonny Greenwood’s score is beautiful. Unfortunately, Ramsay slightly overdoes it with the use of red as a visual motif. I say she overdoes it, she lays on it on so thick, so often and in such obvious fashion, it renders the whole enterprise rather meaningless. 

I’m sure WNTTAK will appear on many critics' best of the year lists and this will baffle me as much as the book’s inexplicable popularity. In this regard, I can certainly identify with Swinton’s Eva in feeling desperately alone in noticing something unsavoury no-one else seems to see.