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We Need to Talk About Kevin (AF)


Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rocky Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Lionel Shriver, author of the book adapted by scenarists Lynne (Ratcatcher) Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear for this critically garlanded melodrama has expressed her delight at the adaptation. Naturally I’m happy for her and am also suitably embarrassed that I find myself unable to join in the tsunami of reviewers expressing their delight at a film which I found to be self-consciously and relentlessly reaching for that prized designation, an ‘art movie’.

Ramsay’s first shot – Swinton, covered in red liquid, being passed over the heads of a legion of half-naked people swishing around in a lake of red paint – shouts out “Look at me! I’m an art film!” and indeed it is. Expressionism runs riot and pointless shots abound and scenes abound as Ramsay overdoes the telling of the sinister story by unremittingly decorating it with auteuristic flourishes.

Swinton abandons her career and ambitions to have a child. The eponymous Kevin appears to hate her from the start. When he is 15, Kevin embarks on a shooting spree at his high school, leaving guilt-ridden Swinton a pariah who then seeks absolution by writing letters to her former husband Reilly.

It says a lot for Swinton that she is superb, despite the fault-ridden adaptation and Ramsay’s self-conscious direction. I never really felt she deserved her Oscar for Michael Clayton but here she deserves every award going, notably for conspicuous talent in the face of screenplay and direction. Her usual lack of onscreen empathy beautifully suits a character who is colder than an igloo in midwinter. Reilly has the thankless role of token inexpensive American star cast for US box-office appeal and gives a pallid performance which, in the circumstances, seems reasonable.

(By the way, a note for British cinemagoers. You have already prepaid for ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ through funding from the National Lottery and the BBC).

Alan Frank

UK/USA 2010. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour by deluxe.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 19 Oct 2011