I was ashamed and devastated for Tilda Swinton's matriarch in We Need to Talk About Kevin as she struggled onward after her teenage son committed a school massacre. Swinton's Eva Khatchadourian shoulders the abuse and backlash one might expect for the parent of such a cruel, infamous child, and she constantly ponders whether her shortcomings as a mother caused Kevin to become a monster. Swinton absolutely nails the performance, and takes the audience with her as she rides a violent roller coaster of emotion. With beautiful direction from Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was adapted from a novel by Lionel Shriver, is haunting, horrific and affecting.
Before the birth of her son, Eva was a successful travel writer who lived among her subjects to fully appreciate their cultures. Along the way she marries affable Franklin (John C. Reilly), and the pair soon brings Kevin into the world. I assume that having an insolent, immutable child tops any parent's list of fears. Here, something fails to click between Eva and Kevin, who grows from a constantly fussy baby to a sullen, deceitful adolescent under his mother's care. This drastic lack of any mother-son bond is frightening, and it is not clear whether Kevin or Eva is to blame. Of course Kevin and his father get along happily, which infuriates Eva, who is stuck picking up the pieces when Franklin is gone.
Ramsay's (Ratcatcher) direction is wonderful, and she seamlessly blends scenes from different periods in time throughout the film. The horror of Kevin's ultimate actions is amplified when paired with shots of an earlier, happy Eva and glimpses into Kevin's troubled childhood. With the help of editor Joe Bini, Ramsay creates artful prose through these time shifts, utilizing expert sound bridges and unexpected but wonderfully comprehensible cuts. Despite all the hopping around, We Need to Talk About Kevin remains in perpetual motion, building dread and consequences for Eva.
Swinton again proves herself a master actress, and her performance is as convincing as I have seen on screen this year. Swinton has a look about her that lends itself to complicated, tormented characters like Eva, and the film asks a lot of Eva without providing easy answers. How should a mother act when her son commits a heinous crime? Is Eva partly to blame for Kevin's actions? We Need to Talk About Kevin shows some of the misguided hate spewed at Eva by her neighbors. A small personal victory returns a smile to Eva's face until she encounters a woman hurt by Kevin, and her day is instantly ruined. Eva is marked as damaged and unwanted, yet she tries to keep busy by taking an insultingly unrewarding job at a travel agency. Eva loses so much, but she is not allowed to grieve.
Teenage Kevin, intensely portrayed by Ezra Miller, is smart and cruel and rarely without a cruel jab for Eva. Kevin places his vulnerable younger sister, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), in constant peril, and the girl's beautiful innocence is in stark, sad contrast to Kevin's torment. A sad irony is Franklin's refusal to admit that Kevin's behavior is inappropriate. Franklin pretends Kevin is a normal boy, and buys him an archery set. Eva and Franklin grow apart as Franklin's denial becomes more obvious and Kevin's conduct becomes more deranged. We Need to Talk About Kevin is chilling because it dares to ask its viewers what they would do in the situation. Maybe nothing is wrong with Kevin if Eva and Franklin never discuss it?
The frightening climax of Kevin's free life mirrors the Columbine High School massacre, and such an irredeemable act is not a ringing endorsement for parenthood. We Need to Talk About Kevin gives it audience much to think about, and, despite its heavy subject matter, is not without levity. Eva tells toddler Kevin that she was happy before he came along, and there are some darkly humorous scenes between teenage Kevin and Eva when the pair realizes they are more alike than Eva cares to admit. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a master work in filmmaking technique, narrative and acting, and both Ramsay and Swinton go for broke and succeed.
The film is bold and confidently shot, and the Blu-ray's 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is very strong. Ramsay changes the look of the film depending on each segment's moment in time, and many scenes have a stark, red-heavy color scheme. The 35 mm negative retains some grain, and detail appears very natural. Ramsay does not give every scene gritty, popping detail, but the information is always there in each textured shot. Colors are nicely saturated, and black levels are solid. A few scenes were shot digitally and intentionally stand out, but the impressive resolution never falters.
The soundtrack is equally as impressive, and the disc provides two lossless mixes, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track and a 2.0 Linear PCM stereo mix. Each sounds good, but I prefer the surround mix, which ramps up the dread with its intricate sound mix, which is heavy with the aforementioned sound bridges. There is a lot going on around the sound field, and the mix makes good use of the surround and rear speakers. Dialogue is always audible amid the intentionally disjointed ambient effects, and the music and score are rich and robust. English SDH subtitles are provided.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
If any studio rivals the Criterion Collection for technically solid Blu-rays with in-depth extras and attractive packing, it is Oscilloscope Laboratories. The studio presents We Need to Talk About Kevin in a study, fold-out cardboard inner package that features Celia's artwork, pictures from the film and an essay about violence. The two-disc set includes the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film, and the discs slide into slits in the cardboard. This inner package fits inside an outer cardboard box, which slides into a slipcover that features more commercial artwork than the inner box. The extra features are interesting and include:
- Behind the Scenes of Kevin (27:05/HD) - This collection of on-set interviews with the cast and crew is very good. Swinton talks about her character and the perils of parenthood, while Miller discusses playing a tormented man unlike himself. After listening to Swinton discuss the film, it struck me that she is both a great actress and an extremely thoughtful and articulate woman.
- Extra Footage from "La Tomatina" Tomato Festival (4:15/HD) - The film uses this annual Spanish festival and its large tomato fight to illustrate Eva's early freedom, and the Blu-ray includes some extra shots that got cut from the final film.
- In Conversation with Tilda Swinton (17:52/HD) - In this Q&A from the Telluride Film Festival, Swinton discusses the film and her career, touching on mentor Jim Jarmusch, her mainstream success and her acting methodology.
- Interview with Author Lionel Shriver (3:58/HD) - This brief piece includes a few red-carpet remarks from author Lionel Shriver about the film adaptation of her novel.
- The extras conclude with the film's Original Theatrical Trailer (1:45/HD).
We Need to Talk About Kevin is certainly an apt title for this thoughtful, chilling film. Tilda Swinton excels under Lynne Ramsay's direction as the mother of a teen who commits a school massacre. Swinton's performance is perfect, and she takes her character through many stages of duress, depression and redemption. We Need to Talk About Kevin depicts a parent's worst nightmare, and asks many unanswerable questions about the making of a violent man. We Need to Talk About Kevin is an excellent film that receives a fitting Blu-ray treatment. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.