We need to talk about Kevin is a strange movie. At times engaging, effective and dramatic and others drifting aimlessly almost dream-like in structure. How far you are willing to suspend your disbelief will ultimately determine what you get out of the movie. There was a poignant, moving story to be told which is only partially delivered.
Directed by Lynne Ramsey (you were never really here) in a split time narrative, choosing to dole out what in real terms is a very straight forward simplistic plot line in bite sized chunks spanning 18 years. This fractured timeline hops into random slots of time deliberately trying to add weight to the story. This approach doesn't always work, favouring lingering looks into the drawn face of Eva (Tilda Swinton), a (apparently) famous travel writer and stressed mother of Kevin who really didn't want him in the first place. His presence a burden to her life, she tries desperately to cling to the past refusing to properly engage with her infant. Brilliantly illustrated by the scene where Eva walks to a construction site to try to mask her son's incessant crying with Jack hammers and drilling.
She senses, as does the audience, that there is something very wrong with Kevin. Only when he gets older do we realise by how much. It’s obvious that Kevin is intelligent, manipulative even. A willful little child who deliberately refuses potty training insisting on nappies until he is nearly six or seven (It is never expressly said in the movie). Understandably this would ware on any parent. Eva cracks and throws her child against a wall, breaking his arm. At this point you could easily start to disbelieve that any parent would allow a child to manipulate them in this way without seeking help from professional services.
There is a sense sometimes of the movie being more style over substance. The deliberate use of red and yellow. There is barely a scene in the movie that doesn’t feature either colour prominently or as a feature within the frame. Some instances are very in your face. when Eva - in the present time before the incident - is shopping and she sees a parent that she doesn’t want to see her she scurries around an aisle standing fearful in front of endless rows of red labelled Campbell soup. It is a mechanism to suggest death and foreboding of things to come. Indeed the opening sequence features Eva surrounded by a sea of red, writhing bodies while on one of her ‘adventures’.
It is a little bit of subterfuge as there is scant meat on the bones, only scratching at the surface implying lots but saying very little. There was plenty of opportunities to delve into the mindset of Eva or Kevin but we only get surface details. Indeed it is perhaps missing a scene that the title suggests ‘we need to talk about Kevin’ which never happens not even between Eva and her feckless Husband Franklin (John C Reilly). The surrounding characters are there just to fill a scene or react to Eva’s machinations about Kevin.
In this regard the reactions of both parents are reckless and misjudged. No more fitting than when Kevin buys twenty bike locks ‘online’. Not once did they question it. Not even the cynical Eva. Which plays absurdly unrealistic given what had occurred previously - her second child losses an eye and the hamster squeezed into a trash compacter at the hands of Kevin. As played in the movie, Eva is a very hard character to be sympathetic to even though she is a tragic character; the steely androgenic gaze off putting and stern. Her actions personifying that not all people should be parents.
When the final tragic incident occurs it is shown off-screen - indeed the director has opted to not show any violence onscreen - I would argue that the scene would have been more powerful had we witnessed this in greater detail as it stands it is shown in muted flashback as Kevin draws his arrows to fire.
While an interesting subject matter, ultimately the movie is more concerned in delivering pretentious notions than hard hitting drama. It could have been a sucker punch to the gut. In the end it only slightly delivers on that score.