Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”)
Written by: Lynne Ramsay (“Morvern Callar”) and Rory Kinnear (debut)
Look, if you’ve seen just one “evil kid” movie, even the most stylistic, well-acted offering in the genre isn’t going to offer you any surprises. A weird little kid is going to do creepy and borderline psychotic things that only one of his parents will notice, leaving the other one to bumble around happily, stopping every so often to reassure their troubled spouse with inane platitudes like, “Oh, you’re just over-reacting” or “Honey, please…it’s perfectly normal for a boy to continue masturbating while staring you dead in the eyes when you accidentally walk in on him.” Seriously, it happens in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
In “Kevin,” troubled mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) deals with the aftermath of a tragedy, slinking through life permanently shattered. She spends her time avoiding personal contact on the street and traveling to visit her son Kevin (Ezra Miller) locked away in prison. Flashbacks fill in the details slowly, as Eva and husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) grow apart through Kevin’s childhood as both parents see very different sides of the same little boy.
Tilda Swinton turns in a fantastic performance as a broken woman who has to deal with a son capable of doing terrible things, a husband who doesn’t believe her, and a community that holds her personally responsible for the awful things Kevin did. While it may serve the artier parts of the movie to alienate Eva from the world, the film never really makes it clear why the townspeople would see fit to slap Eva square in the face in public for expressing the least bit of happiness. The supporting performances are fine, with Ezra Miller bringing the requisite uneasiness to the well-worn trope of the deeply-troubled teenager. A likeable John C. Reilly adds nothing new to the standard oblivious parent role. Also, his recent forays into absurd comedy can’t help but undercut his dramatic performance. That may be unfair, but it remains true and proves to be a minor distraction.
Director Lynne Ramsay piles on the artistry, yet the story remains pedestrian. A palette of blood red permeates Eva’s life before and after the tragedy, from a paint-splattered front porch to a strawberry jam sandwich smashed ominously on a coffee table to a wall of red soup cans, but it all boils down to metaphorical window-dressing that fails to disguise how routine the plot unfolds.