Keep It Reel Reviews

Reel People. Reel Reviews.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

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By: Staff Writer Emily Johnson

Rated: R

1 hr 52 min

We Need to Talk About Kevin is the film adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name starring Tilda Swinton. I had extremely high expectations for this film for several different reasons. For one, Lionel Shriver is one of my all-time favorite authors. In fact, I first began reading her novels because I saw the preview for this film and decided I wanted to read the book it was based on before I saw the movie. (This is a sidenote, but I will rarely watch a film without reading the book it’s based on first). For another, I am physically incapable of not watching any film in which SWINTON graces us with her ethereal presence. For any other SWINTON fans out there, or for anyone who wants to know why I keep typing SWINTON in all caps, I would highly recommend…this link.

Before we get too far into the review, I think I should point out that if you’re looking for a feel good flick, save this movie for another day. I once heard a critic call this movie a slow descent into hell and that’s certainly what it feels like. We Need to Talk About Kevin follows travel-writer-turned-housewife Eva Katchadourian’s (SWINTON) troubled relationship with her son Kevin. The film contemplates a lot of unspoken questions about human nature and motherhood that will certainly get audiences talking afterwards. But a HUGE part of this film that I would certainly hate to ruin is the audience’s emotional reaction to certain key plot points, so I am not going to go into too much detail about it so as to hopefully not ruin it for anyone who wants to watch it. Suffice it to say that this movie provides more than enough emotional sucker punch moments to leave you feeling significantly scarred afterwards.

In all, though, this movie fell slightly short of my expectations. The novel is written through a series of letters from Eva to her husband and jumps back and forth through moments of their life together. The film attempts to follow this same pattern in that it is constantly jumping backwards and forwards in time, but was unable to capture the same organizational brilliance that Shriver did. I’m a strong believer that a lot of times what works on the page does not work on screen. You’ll never hear me say that film adaptations of novels MUST be exactly like the book they were based on, because I think it’s vital that books be re-structured to work well as a movie in order to retain what fans originally loved about the novel (just criticize anything Peter Jackson did to Lord of the Rings, I dare you). I think We Need to Talk About Kevin is a perfect example of this. The film felt disjointed and, although the director attempted to use blatantly obvious visual cues to tie scenes together for audience members, if I hadn’t read the novel I know for a fact I would have been extremely confused. What would have really helped this movie out would have been having Eva narrate during scene changes to better ground the audience in where the film was in time, mimicking the letter format of the novel.

There’s no denying Tilda Swinton’s talent and presence on screen. In fact, I think SWINTON is one of the few actresses who could have pulled this role off, considering that Eva spends the majority of her screen time appearing to just stare into space. Even though I got what the director was going for, considering the amount of emotional trauma Eva endures, I found that it didn’t make for a very compelling main character. SWINTON plays the Eva of Shriver’s novel to the T, which, as it turns out, I preferred much more on the page.

The true stars of We Need to Talk About Kevin were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the little known actors who played the title character. We see the evolution of Kevin’s character throughout the first 18 years of his life and I was equally blown away by the child actor who played 6 to 8 year old Kevin and Ezra Miller, who played teenage Kevin. Both of them will send chills up your spine. John C. Reilly is not who I would have pictured to play Kevin’s father, and he does just fine, but there’s not really anything to write home about there. Considering the main function of his character is to supplement the central relationship between Eva and Kevin, it’s probably better off that way.

If you’re like me and enjoy movies that explore the darker sides of human nature and really delve into the psychology of a character, then definitely watch this film. But don’t expect it to do all the work for you- you will certainly have to connect a lot of the dots on your own for the full Katchadourian experience. I would also highly recommend reading the novel before you watch it, but then again I would say that for any film. You won’t miss any of the important aspects of the story without reading the book. And be prepared for this movie to stick with you for a while.  While I had higher hopes for it, I guarantee you that Kevin Katchadourian will be haunting your thoughts for days to come once you finish this movie.

7.0 out of 10

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