We Need to Talk With Kevin is Just a Long Conversation with a Hideous Film

Melodramatic flick about a serial killer's upbringing is a (bad art school) hack job

kevin1 We Need to Talk With Kevin is Just a Long Conversation with a Hideous Film

Ms. Swinton and Mr. Reilly.

We Need to Talk About Kevin. Why? I’d rather just ignore him—and this vile, pretentious movie—completely. With an incomprehensible script and jigsaw-puzzle direction, both by Scottish poseur Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher), and a loopy performance by weirdo Tilda Swinton as the half-mad mother of a serial killer, this is the most unwatchable horror movie masquerading as social comment I have seen this year.

It begins in a laughable parody of Dante’s Inferno with a mob of scantily clad people at a Spanish bacchanal writhing in what looks like strawberry sauce. I guess they symbolize Kevin’s victims—dead bodies rolling in blood after he has shot up his school, leaving them in a vat of red paint. Kevin is a maniac who was born evil. As a baby, he screamed uncontrollably. As a child, he was senselessly drawn to maiming and hurting other children without provocation. Uncommunicative to the point of autism, he mainly just stared maniacally, saying nothing. Composed of brief images, like shards of broken milk bottles, the film takes forever for the pieces to form some kind of picture of what’s going on, and even then, some of the pieces never fit. While Kevin’s father Franklin (John C. Reilly) just shrugs and prays for adolescence, his mother Eva (Ms. Swinton, looking more anemic and androgynous than usual, which is saying a mouthful) is not so pulled together herself. When he refuses to take part in toilet training, she throws her son against the wall and breaks his arm. Then, after Kevin sprays an entire room with graffiti, Mom buys a dozen broken eggs, cooks them up in a bowl and picks at the scattered shells before papering another entire room in road maps. We won’t go into the part where Kevin stuffs his pets down the garbage disposal and flips the switch.

Far from an insightful psychological study, the movie jolts back and forth in 20-year time frames as it follows the shocked expressions of the traumatized mother of a psychopath. Mr. Reilly is nothing more than a domestic cipher as the clueless father. Ms. Swinton acts like she’s auditioning for Medea, but any hint of Greek tragedy is ratcheted up to the duh level by Ezra Miller’s snarling, absurdly precocious and profoundly obnoxious bad-seed portrait of Kevin as a cross between a Stepford baby and Chucky the killer doll. Most of the bloated running time of nearly two hours is used up before we even find out the horrible thing Kevin did at 16 that landed him in prison. Even then, the director refuses to show his murder spree, opting instead for splashing the screen with buckets of corny, symbolic paint the color of cherry tomatoes.

It’s a deliberate example of style over content that leaves you feeling like you’ve been had. Whether it’s about the toxic life of Kevin, whose contempt for everyone and everything around him leads to a homicidal massacre, or about the complicity of a sociopath’s lost, anxiety-riddled mother whose unconditional love played its part in the creation of a monster? She’s more concerned with what the neighbors think. And why all the close-ups of cancer cells? Does it mean that in an age of feminist-distopia Kevin is his mother’s own fatal disease? Does anybody care? We’ve had a lot of films about American school shootings, including Gus Van Sant’s inert and deadly Elephant, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and last year’s wrenching, underrated Beautiful Boy with Michael Sheen and Maria Bello. But We Need to Talk About Kevin (wanna bet?) is a morbid, misguided mess with a fractured narrative, guaranteed to drive audiences away in droves.

rreed@observer.com

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Running Time 112 minutes

Written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller

0/4

Comments

  1. Jack says:

    This vile, pretentious review just proves what little respect you deserve after having the gall of reviewing a movie after walking out on it (50/50) and not to mention giving the plain movie of the week My Week With Marilyn twice the score you gave the haunting, introspective Shame. Clearly you’ve just either gone senile or are desperately aiming for Armond White’s infamy.

  2. JQS says:

    So completely agree with Jack. There are so many factual details wrong in this review that it’s clear you barely half-watched the film, and the sneering ad hominem attacks on the director and lead actor are simply beneath contempt. This is the review of a sad old man, bitter, creatively impotent, and so very small.

  3. Stacey says:

    I agree with the other posters, and I think you have missed the point of the film entirely. Further, your “review” is nothing more than a seething attack on everyone involved with the film and has no point . The 0/4 rating is beyond ridiculous especially when the majority of 

    REAL critics have praised the movie on its merits of acting,
    cinematography, score and directing as well as having won awards from movie festivals. You clearly have no knowledge on what constitutes good film making and overall what a good movie is.

  4. Sara says:

    You’re such a downer Rex. Since you seem to despite all that is going on in Hollywood today, perhaps you should use the last years of your life to write, and direct films. But will you be even be satisfied then?

  5. Albert says:

    Guys. It’s Rex Reed. Don’t take him seriously.

  6. Kadironurdagdeviren says:

    you really don’t understand cinema.you can do another job

  7. Numbersix_99 says:

    Terrible reading of the film. Did you even watch this film. The opening scene is of course the La Tomatina  festival, a scene not of blood and gore (or strawberries) but of the protagonist’s connection to her old career of travel writing and in a greater sense, to humanity as well. Your interpretation of it is mere ignorance.

    Also wrong is your juxtaposition of scenes and inability to tell between past and present, a tactic that’s easy to decipher. The protag. does not eat an omelette of broken eggs just after her son grafittis the room. They are happening at different times. She is piecing together the past through Proustian moments of connection.

    I’m all for criticism, even bad criticism. But given how you have mistaken a rather simple narrative (and I have not read the original novel, nor did I know much about the film going into it) I can only conclude that you are not a very strong critic. Stick to the forums of IMDB.

  8. Numbersix_99 says:

    And as for the Armond White comment below, at least White makes sense, whether we agree or not. This review does not.

  9. Yourstruly says:

    You fucking psychopath

  10. Steven says:

    This guy obviously has class… What a failure of a review. He hasn’t grasped the film at all. Must be going senile in his old age.

  11. Aaron says:

    This is one of the best films of the year in my opinion, and even though you are entitled to your opinion of the film (which I agree with the others, is extremely scattered and not particularly a logical assessment of the film), your snide comments about Ms. Swinton’s looks and the director’s supposed ineptitude are totally petty and ridiculous. I would expect something from a 13-year-old girl but not from a “seasoned” film critic. My god.

  12. Xaviercroisetiere says:

    Keep your comment for you please. 

  13. Anonymous says:

    Obnoxious, crude, mean, condescending, and just being a plain old prick you sir don’t have to like the film but you’re petty and rude comments about Tilda Swinton was completely uncalled for, seriously. You’re job is to criticize the film at hand   (which by the way was superficial and inept) not made personal attacks at someone, you sound like a very bitter person. I don’t give a damn if everyone is entitled to an opinion, some should just keep it to themselves.

  14. Truth says:

    Rex Reed. You are a troll. A class A troll. Ugh. this is a spectacular film and you insult it with your stupidity. 

  15. Bettermanthanthou says:

    My god. This review is so far from the mark. Presumably you need no qualifications to write reviews? Or sense? Or wit? 

    But then you have precociously displayed your extended lexicon and knowledge of Greek tragedies. In that case, you really are a genius. No really.

  16. Benga says:

    rex, you’re a class A moron.

  17. Mark J Cassidy says:

    Jesus, this review so misses the mark that it has to be deliberate..right? The guy doesn’t even get when certain scenes are supposed to be happening. An imbecile masquerading as a critic. 

  18. Rafaela Cruz says:

    What you call bacchanal is a very old spanish tradition, La Tomatina. It’s tomatoes. have you even seen this movie? or you’re just unable to follow a fragmented story line? whatever, if you think that a good review means to trash actors and just have a different opinion from the rest of the critics. GOOD JOB

  19. Jimedit says:

    I agree with almost every aspect of this review.  This movie was frustrating beyond being tolerable.  Like an exercise in how much suspended disbelief an audience can withstand. 

  20. Kristey says:

    Do some research–the work that you refer to as a “bad art school hack job” is based on the narrative of a 2003 novel. It seems only you did not understand the “incomprehensible script”, seeing as the comments below me effortlessly pieced together the film’s fragmented sequence. The father did not “pray for adolescence”, as you suggest, but rather accepted his son’s demeanor because the only recipient of Kevin’s malicious intents was his mother. Do some thinking as well. 

  21. Jack says:

    This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Thought provoking and intelligent. The toxicity of the relationship between Mother and son and the questions that it raised kept me totally riveted. Thankfully the power of Google means we don’t have to rely on one spurious and inaccurate review when the majority of critics have been impressed by this atmospheric and dark chiller. 

  22. SomeoneSmarterThanYou says:

    Mr. Reed, you REALLY need to retire. Honestly. Please…Thank you.

  23. Tagamet says:

    This is an extraordinary movie. Calling the director a “poseur” and Tilda Swinton “a weirdo” just because you don’t like the actress, makes me lose respect not only for you, but The Observer. I want to see a movie made by you.

  24. You're Inept says:

    HAHAHA ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS REVIEW. get your head out of your ass.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t you admit you just don’t get it…because you obviously don’t.  This movie is so rich and filled with raw real and often disturbing inisghts regarding the realtionship between a mother and her son.  Exploring the helplessness,horror,guilt and trauma that surround the world of a mother whose son commits an atrocity is pretty brave.  Tilda Swinton’s acting is brillant.  The movie does not offer a nice pat answer for the unanswerable instead it allows the audience to watch the train wreck before and after while digesting nature vs. nurture vs. unconditionl love even when there isn’t any.  This movie is remarkable in every aspect and Ezra Miller’s convincing role is stellar while unsettling in a deep dark place…one you don’t want to visit but won’t forget.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t you admit you just don’t get it…because you obviously don’t.  This movie is so rich and filled with raw real and often disturbing inisghts regarding the realtionship between a mother and her son.  Exploring the helplessness,horror,guilt and trauma that surround the world of a mother whose son commits an atrocity is pretty brave.  Tilda Swinton’s acting is brillant.  The movie does not offer a nice pat answer for the unanswerable instead it allows the audience to watch the train wreck before and after while digesting nature vs. nurture vs. unconditionl love even when there isn’t any.  This movie is remarkable in every aspect and Ezra Miller’s convincing role is stellar while unsettling in a deep dark place…one you don’t want to visit but won’t forget.

    Edit Reply

  27. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t you admit you just don’t get it…because you obviously don’t.  This movie is so rich and filled with raw real and often disturbing inisghts regarding the realtionship between a mother and her son.  Exploring the helplessness,horror,guilt and trauma that surround the world of a mother whose son commits an atrocity is pretty brave.  Tilda Swinton’s acting is brillant.  The movie does not offer a nice pat answer for the unanswerable instead it allows the audience to watch the train wreck before and after while digesting nature vs. nurture vs. unconditionl love even when there isn’t any.  This movie is remarkable in every aspect and Ezra Miller’s convincing role is stellar while unsettling in a deep dark place…one you don’t want to visit but won’t forget.

  28. X-MAN says:

    NYO, can you be so kind to give me a job? I am pretty sure i will be way far above your employee quality requirements

  29. Teddy Margolis says:

    Rex Reed is, and always has been a moron. I didn’t realize he was even still alive. His opinions are worse than worthless. Go see this film, it is a masterpiece. Especially reccomended if you are into stuff like Ingmar Bergman, Gaspar Noe, Harminy Korine or Darren Aronofsky.

  30. Teddy says:

    Strawberries? Reed, are you just pretending to be stupid, to keep your job, or are you an actual idiot, or is it Alzheimer’s? Readers, PLEASE read the informed comments below! Rex Reed did not understand this film, and it appears that he probably didn’t even watch all of it.
      Rex, please retire! Aren’t you like 100 years old now?  Didn’t you formerly write for more respected journals? And now you do this? Give it a rest, Rex. Go watch Gone With The Wind again.

  31. Daniel says:

    Right on, Rex.  This film was an empty show-off stunt.  It’s not a mystery, as some claim– it just fails to either explain itself or leave you with any interesting questions, other than, “Why does anyone think this is a good film?”  The overwrought blood and filth symbols were painfully obvious.  A great disappointment from a huge Tilda Swinton fan.  

  32. HA! I just found one reviewer I’m never going to acknowledge again. This movie was a masterful piece of art, you fool. 

  33. Maura says:

    What do you mean ‘Scottish Poseur’? And Tilda Swinton a ‘weirdo’? You clearly are of limited intelligence, sir.