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MOVIE REVIEW: Swinton gives best performance yet in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'

We Need To Talk About Kevin

(R)

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a visceral, throttling and take-no-prisoners type of movie that imagines two radically different methods of child-rearing present since the dawn of time. Do we A) do what's right or B) hope it all works itself out?

There is lots of middle ground regarding the answer and most parents generally go to that center, but often when it doesn't work out, they languish in regret deep into the wee hours of forever. Raising great children is by no means easy, but it is a stroll in the park when compared to dealing with offspring like Kevin.

There is little doubt that Kevin is a very bad seed. He is not a "victim" of his environment, born into squalor or EVER mistreated by his (in this case) biological parents. He is pure evil and to the extraordinary credit of director Lynne Ramsay and her co-writer Rory Kinnear (adapting the novel by Lionel Shriver), Kevin is presented unflinchingly honestly and never through political-correctness filters.

The first monkey-wrench in the gears is with the presentation of Kevin's mother Eva (Tilda Swinton), a woman who more than likely never wanted to be a mother but understands the lifelong commitment that comes with that incredibly demanding position and never once throws in the towel. Eva -- without much support from her largely clueless husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) -- attempts to raise Kevin despite every possible bit of negative reinforcement from her son along the way.

Like so many sociopaths, Kevin is whip-smart and probably a genius. Not only does he figure out as a toddler how to get completely underneath Eva's skin when they're alone, he can instantly turn it around and become sweetness and light when around Franklin and later his baby sister Lucy (Ursula Parker). Whenever Eva attempts to discuss Kevin with Franklin, he dismisses her out of hand and eventually comes to the conclusion that's she's paranoid, delusional and has it in for the boy.

Because the story is told entirely from Eva's perspective and includes a significant number of dream/fantasy sequences, viewers might be tempted to agree with Franklin at least a little bit, something that lends the film another wrinkle. Is Eva crazy? Is she making all of it up because she never wanted to be a mother? Why is she the only person who thinks Kevin is bad?

Three horrible events (all of which take place offscreen) arriving late in the third act will address these questions sufficiently while also presenting others without any answers. Those paying ultra-close attention to the tiny details along the way might figure out at least some of the story long before then but it will be something of a chore.

While the filmmakers' decision to present the narrative out of sequence adds rich texture, it will quite often disorient even the most patient and observant viewers. Much of what we see throughout takes place long after what is revealed at the end of the film and sometimes we can't understand the actions of some of the peripheral and incidental characters. If Ramsey can be faulted for anything, it would be the possible overuse of the breakneck chronological back-and-forth.

Ramsey more than makes up for the narrative sleight-of-hand with her casting decisions regarding the three young men who portray Kevin. Not only do Rocky Duer (the infant), Jasper Newell (the toddler) and Ezra Miller (the teen) look like the same person, they collectively play Kevin with remarkable consistency and understatement. It would have been so easy to overdo the character by making him a spastic maniac and it might have even worked. Keeping Kevin calm, deliberate and even-keeled makes him far more menacing and dangerous.

The film's crowning achievement belongs to Swinton who, in a career laden with outstanding performances, delivers her finest. She completely disappears into Eva and never flies off the handle even under the most trying of circumstances and steadfastly avoids anything resembling histrionics. Very few actresses could ever get anywhere near what Swinton accomplishes in this film and no one else deserves the Oscar this year more than her -- even if the shortsighted Academy failed to ever give her a nomination. (Oscilloscope)