While Cannes is thinning out after the first week–the crowds at The Grand are diminished—buyers expect to announce a raft of sales over the next few days. One of the films still being hotly debated–and tipped for a well-deserved best actress prize here for Tilda Swinton–is Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s a polarizing love/hate kind of thing.
The movie ranks as one of the best-received by critics here and played well at its Palais gala, along with Aki Kaurismaki’s French-language Le Havre and the Weinstein Co.’s French-made black-and-white silent film The Artist (which has a few lines of English dialogue, and will thus be ineligible as a French foreign submission). But distributors are worried about how to handle Kevin, which is based on the 2003 bestseller by Lionel Shriver and paints a nasty portrait of a dysfunctional mother and son who do not get along. Some parents feel prickles of discomfort and recognition, while others reject the premise outright.
I have not read the novel, but some who admired the book can’t get past how Ramsay jettisoned Shriver’s epistolary narration for a more fractured structure without any voiceover, although it is very much told from the POV of the lonely depressed mother (Swinton) of a SPOILER ALERT disaffected son (Ezra Miller) imprisoned for killing a bunch of kids in a school gym. (This becomes clear fairly early on.) The movie slowly and inexorably shows us fragments of how she got where she is, and the nature of her troubled relationship with her husband (John C. Reilly) and older child. While Ramsay makes Kevin a tad too demon-seed and goes overboard with the red-blood-red art direction, she plays out this tense drama with skill and style.
At the premiere, green-eyed Swinton looked every inch the statuesque movie star with a light blond bob, candy pink lips and backless dark azur blue and purple Haider Ackermann sheath. Having won a supporting actress Oscar for Michael Clayton as well as top notices for I Am Love, a small distributor with the right deft marketing touch–I’d pick Roadside Attractions (Biutiful earned a nomination for Javier Bardem), but they appear not to be chasing hard after this–could deploy a Swinton awards campaign to turn this tough little movie into a must-see. The long Oscar trail gets expensive, is the problem, and this movie won’t get past $2 million at the theatrical box office. But I hope Swinton gets a shot.
“With this film, Tilda Swinton establishes herself as the one to beat for best-actress honors at 2011 Cannes…This is a coolly cerebral film with odd music choices — ranging from the Beach Boys to vintage country — and a few odd images such as a microscopic view of breast cancer cells dividing, apropos of absolutely nothing…It’s a film to think about and debate over but not one to embrace.”
Eric Kohn, indieWIRE:
“Tilda Swinton delivers a breathtakingly fragile performance as Eva, whose 15-year-old son Kevin (Ezra Miller) sits in jail while she lives in the shadow of his murderous act. But she’s hardly without culpability, having apparently resented her son’s existence since his birth. Nothing is certain in Ramsay’s version of the events. Following her stylistic tendencies in ‘Ratcatcher’ and the delectable quasi-noir ‘Morvern Callar,’ the director masterfully conveys her troubled protagonist’s subjectivity.”
Lesley Felperin, Variety:
“an exquisitely realized adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s bestselling novel. In a rigorously subtle perf as a woman coping with the horrific damage wrought by her psychopathic son, Tilda Swinton anchors the dialogue-light film with an expressiveness that matches her star turn in “I Am Love”…Ramsay lets pure film technique do the heavy lifting in order to convey the desolate emotional climate that makes the central tragedy happen.Present in every scene so that there’s no doubt that her character’s consciousness is filtering what’s seen, Swinton delivers a concrete-hard central perf that’s up there with her best work.”
Laremy Legel, Film:
“We Need to Talk About Kevin is right on the razor’s edge of greatness. It’s not all the way there, but it’s close, with solid performances, editing, music, and sound design apparent from the outset…Part horror, part drama, part cautionary tale, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a film that will lodge in your memory long after the end credits. Striking visuals enhance a complex and compelling modern tragedy, with the only weak aspect coming from the total darkness that is Kevin.”
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:
“It is a movie which is a skin-peelingly intimate character study and a brilliantly nihilist, feminist parable: what happens when smart progressive career women give birth to boys: the smirking, back-talking, weapon-loving competitive little beasts that they have feared and despised since their own schooldays?…Ramsay’s superb film reminds us that someone does the dirty, dreary work of explaining, feeling unhappy, going on prison visits and generally carrying the can. And that may well be the mother. As Swinton’s Eva wearily washes off the red paint that someone has splattered over her porch, the movie wanly restates the undramatic truth: the mess must be cleaned up somehow, and it isn’t the men who wind up doing it.”
Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline:
“The filmmaking is extraordinary; it’s the story that gets in the way…What does work in We Need to Talk About Kevin is the slow-burning, slow-building mother-and-son horror story. The picture is like a nightmare inversion of Mildred Pierce: This mother doesn’t adore her son, and she overcompensates for her lack of feeling by trying harder to win him over…[and] Swinton playing a woman in need of kindness is something to behold.”