Saturday, 23 February 2013

Film Review | We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Alan Partridge. Probably not the first thing you expected to read in a review of a film neither featuring nor involving Steve Coogan in any way, but it's where I'm going to start. You see, the "autobiography" of Coogan's fictional TV and radio personality was released in late 2011. The title of the book: I, Partridge. Still no connection, but stay with me. Its subtitle is We Need To Talk About Alan. And herein lies my point.

We Need To Talk About Kevin, both Lynne Ramsay's film and the 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver upon which it is based, has a title that has become more notorious than the works it stands for. A lot of people who have neither read the book nor seen the film will have heard the title or at least a sentence derived from it (such as that linked to the aforementioned Partridge-flavoured tome). Shriver's book certainly caught public attention too at the time of its release through its potentially shocking subject matter.

All of which leaves Ramsay's 2011 film adaptation in a curious, and not altogether desirable, situation. It's now very difficult to watch We Need To Talk About Kevin without knowing at least a little about its story. A shame, because to know a little is to be able to work out a lot. The clues mount up as to where the film is leading us for its climax; whilst I unfortunately had a rudimentary knowledge of why Kevin is someone needing to be talked about, meaning I could link things together somewhat quicker than maybe I was meant to, I couldn't help but feel that some of the puzzle pieces were a little too unsubtle to the point that even someone who had no idea how things were likely to end up would be able to join the dots a bit too easily.

Ramsay is also heavy-handed when it comes to symbolism. Red is a colour which follows Eva (Tilda Swinton), mother of the titular teenager (Ezra Miller), throughout the film, linking to all the obvious connotations from anger and violence to love and passion. But again there's no subtlety to Ramsay's touch. Eva's house and car is slathered with crimson paint in an early scene, and it's almost as though Ramsay has adopted the same method in leaving great dollops of red throughout her film.

Elsewhere, the director is much more successful. Ramsay's choices of cinematography and editing blend tropes of crime drama, psychological thriller and subtle horror in a very pleasing manner. The non-linear structure is controlled and delivered skilfully, adding intrigue to the story and building both Eva and Kevin's characters in an unusual but largely satisfying way.

The performances from the central two are also key to much of the film's success, with Miller crafting a chillingly unpredictable adolescent from the haunting Damien Thorn-esque performance of Jasper Newell playing the prepubescent Kevin. This is Swinton's film however, expertly putting across Eva's transformation from carefree twenty-something through paranoid and unnatural mother to an emotional shell of a woman struggling to put her life back together. It's a shame that John C. Reilly can't manage the same success as husband and father Franklin. It really isn't any fault of Reilly's, as his performance is fine enough; his very presence in the role is just too much of a distraction throughout and constantly feels like a truly bizarre piece of casting. There are any number of excellent actors who could easily have taken the part and not seemed so at odds with the film around them.

What we end up with is a good film with plenty of areas of strength that also misses a few too many steps, which holds it back from being great. It's a shame, because those areas in which the film succeeds - Swinton's performance in particular - are genuinely excellent. But they can never be fully appreciated due to those areas where Ramsay misses the mark, meaning We Need To Talk About Kevin will unfortunately most likely be remembered for its title more than anything else.


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