Published on May 14th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
We Need to Talk About Kevin 
Summary: This manipulative character study/thriller is a tension experiment anchored by a flawless performance by Tilda Swinton. However, the film's flaws are gaping.
R | 112 min.
Director: Lynne Ramsay | Screenplay: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear (based on the Lionel Shriver’s novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Studio: BBC Films | Distribution: Oscilloscope Laboratories (USA), Artificial Eye (UK)
If I were grading We Need to Talk About Kevin on the strength of Tilda Swinton’s lead performance, this would easily be a 5-star film. However, one flawless performance does not make a flawless film–and it takes a village to raise a dastardly fictional child.
Swinton carries this story from beginning to end in a pure character study that is equal parts creepy thriller and family drama. Director Lynne Ramsay pulled a lot out of her lead, but as we’ve seen with Swinton over the years (Michael Clayton, Adaptation), she’s always a force onscreen. This movie was finally a chance for Swinton to show that she can carry a film on her own. Typically, we’ve seen her in strong supporting roles, but after We Need to Talk About Kevin, I hope we’ll see her as top-billing more often.
In this role, Swinton successfully shows us the slow erosion of a person’s psyche when being constantly tested, in this case by a child that has nothing but contempt for her. As Eva, she represents a woman trying to get back on her feet after an unspeakable tragedy has altered her entire life. Ramsay, who also co-wrote the screenplay, tells the story through a mixture of flashbacks as we discover what led to this climactic event.
The titular Kevin (Ezra Miller) is her son, and to say that they have a rocky relationship would be the understatement of the century. Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) plays a vital role as a vacant and often hostile teenager. However, I walked away feeling underwhelmed by Miller’s performance as a whole because he felt very one-dimensional. Frankly, his portrayal didn’t feel very real in a movie that is firmly grounded in reality.
As the movie progresses and Kevin’s behavior grows more bizarre, We Need to Talk About Kevin feels more and more like a bad horror film where the protagonist and the audience seem to be the only parties aware of what’s “really going on”. It’s similar to when you’re watching a ghost flick and only one character can see the apparition so you just want to scream at the screen – “Look at the DAMN ghost, you morons!” The film’s title represents what would have been the most important words uttered by a character–if only someone had said them.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is one hell of a downer, with a few brief feel-good moments sprinkled into its almost two-hour running time. This drama manipulates the audience from the minute Kevin is introduced, though, as it often goes for cheap thrills–the only emotion this movie does particularly well is loneliness. As a vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s acting talents, it works wonderfully, but as a total package, this movie left me feeling colder than its title character’s heart.