Friday, 11 November 2011

Insert Play on Words About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Full production details on imdb

A brave attempt at Shriver's book. Some of its power lost by being perhaps too faithful & unempathetic.

Kevin opens spectacularly, unexpectedly, uneasily. A surreal, grotesque, organic dream sequence with Swinton's Eva seemingly crucified and devoured. As this happens she wears her trademark expression which could be a smile, could be a grimace. Is this dream sequence a relief for Eva as she faces her demons, or is it just a manifestation of the hell she lives in? Either way this opening displays the richness of her subconscious, sets the tone and imagery of what is to come, raises unease.

As with other of Ramsay's work the film about the mother, Eva, of disturbed teenager Kevin, is lacking in Hollywood sentimentality. It chugs along, building atmosphere and tension, but doesn't embellish the events, the human interactions. Many of the flashback scenes are lifted straight from Lionel Shriver's book - Kevin Learns to Count; Kevin Learns to Play Catch; Kevin Gets Toilet Trained. They are lifted almost exactly... but without the vital ingredient of Eva's narrative, her justification. All of this, instead, lives in Tilda Swinton's face. Swinton, or rather her face is the star of the film, moving between passive, shell shocked, beaten and exasperated seamlessly as the film progresses. Her accent is passable, but its really not in the words at all, of which there are few, but in her expressions.

Despite this, such scenes do fall slightly flat - we see more of the young Kevin's frustrations than any kind of justification of Eva's. She comes across somewhat as a Bitch Who Was Not Cut Out To Be A Mother - even more so and even less justifiably so than in the novel.

The gritty atmosphere is maintained through long camera shots, blurred visions - of alarm clocks, of happy memories increasingly distant, and Johnny Greenwoods soundtrack. Eerie sounds, rattlesnake noises, ironically cheerful songs - very Lynne Ramsay, very setting-the-tone-but-keeping-it-real. There is no over sentimental indulgence, just events happening around people as time, inevitably, ticks on.

The novel aside, it is intense, gripping, atmospheric. Ezra Miller comes across a little too much the sulky teenager, rather than the truly disturbed individual he is meant to be, but nevertheless makes for compelling watching, with more than a little flavour of a Heathers era Christian Slater. The younger actors are great, spooky children. The supporting cast on the whole do a stand up job. All the subject matter is there, ripe for discussion, controversial and thought provoking.

Eva and Kevin's intense relationship, at the core of the story, its highs and lows, a relationship surpassing any other in either of their lives, however, falls slightly flat. I wish Ramsay herself, with co-writer Rory Kinnear, had 'put the novel aside' and taken a more poetic license with events. More drawn out scenes between Eva and the child Kevin, allowing both characters to develop, could have been preferable to the snap shot scenes lifted from the novel, which seem slightly stilted without Eva's first person perspective and second personing of her vision of Kevin's character.

As it is the subtleties of the relationship must live in the audience's heads. And Swinton's face. For the most part this leaves it stark, factual and unpatronising. The events of Kevin's youth are what they are, the film a window into his and Eva's lives. Ultimately, though, the lack of empathy - which in the novel is gained from the first person narrative - does deprive the film of some of the punch it perhaps could have had.

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