It’s hard to believe that Lynne Ramsay has only made three full-length films in her career. She stunned people with her début, the heartbreakingly truthful Ratcatcher, and arguably impressed ever more with her follow-up, the ponderous Morvern Callar. A much-too-long nine years later Ramsay returns with We Need To Talk About Kevin and it is her most boldest, most meticulous effort yet.
Based on the controversial book by Lionel Shriver and through an erratic non-linear (but nevertheless easily to follow) narrative, the film centres on Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her family, consisting of her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich), and her son Kevin (Ezra Miller). As we jump around in time we find out more about her life and how Kevin isn’t exactly a normal boy.
It’s imperative that you know as little as possible about the actual plot of We Need To Talk About Kevin before seeing it in order to maximise the effect. It’s an unpredictable film, one which feels like it can go anywhere, cross any line, tackle any subject throughout its weird, off-kilter narrative. It’s in no way the first film to employ a non-linear storytelling technique but Ramsay expertly pulls off a deep sense of unease and, at times, flat-out creepiness that keeps your strict attention throughout. Odd editing choices, bold use of existing songs, unapologetic metaphors and the appropriately unsettling score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Ramsay has created quite the cinematic experience.
At the heart of the film is Tilda Swinton who is, quite simply, magnificent here, pulling off an extremely difficult character that we can relate to but still judge for ourselves as an outsider looking in. Supporting performances are also very strong from the likes of John C. Reilly (here reminding everyone he can do more than Will Ferrell-esque comedy) as Eva’s husband – who sees nothing wrong with Kevin and isn’t exactly being supportive of his wife’s plight that there is – and relative newcomer Ezra Miller as the enigma that is the titular character. Every character is so well played by the cast and fleshed out but still leaving enough there unexplored so it never feels like we’re being spoon fed.
Through visually arresting and oddly constructed means, Ramsay explores issues of parenting, influences of the outside world on a growing child and the classic nature vs. nurture debate in ways that feel fresh and alive. She, along with co-screenwriter Rory Kinnear, drives us towards a shocking yet not overblown conclusion (which will certainly have you talking afterwards), carrying all the time a creeping sense of impending doom while at the same time still keeping us very much in the moment. Not that there was any question about her talents before but Ramsay has now truly cemented herself as one of the great modern directors with this, her finest film to date. Tremendous.