Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is so good it comes heartily endorsed by the author herself. (NB: This does not happen a lot.)
The eponymous Kevin is a problem from the start. As a baby he screams relentlessly, as a toddler he barely speaks and, disturbingly, he is impossible to toilet train. His mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) is unable to develop any bonds with him. The child’s pushing her away develops into mental torture. And he relishes it. She does have issues too. An intrepid world traveller she does not entirely suit the role of suburban housewife and mother. Kevin’s easygoing father, Franklin (John C Reilly) has no such problems and Kevin turns him against her. As a teenager his behaviour worsens with increasingly dire consequences. This downward spiral culminates in a staggering act of violence at his high school. Subsequently, the fallout from Kevin’s actions introduces Eva to a whole new world of pain.
This is, essentially, more Eva’s film than it is Kevin’s. Swinton is compelling as the tormented mother. Acting as our tour guide through the dark side of family life she doesn’t make her character entirely sympathetic. This gives some credence as to where exactly Kevin gets *it* from. Ezra Miller is unnervingly good as the teenage Kevin. There are two younger child actors who also play him - one as a toddler and one six-eight years – who are also quite brilliant. All three performances help build the character of a fantastically unlikeable child. Initially, the film is an all-out assault on the senses. Jumping wildly around different timelines and with potent-yet-unexplained imagery, it’s almost too much. It brings to mind Nicolas Roeg at his most chaotic. Thankfully it levels out and, as the film progresses, becomes a little more conventional. Still, this film pushes boundaries. However, please don’t be put off. It also possesses a lot of humour and is an immersive watch. Disturbing viewing it may be, but when a story is relatable as this – simply in terms of the “normal” setting – it will hopefully encourage audiences to count their blessings.
It’s a very sad situation when a director fabulously talented as Lynne Ramsay has taken nine years (since her last feature Morvern Callar) to get something made. Interestingly, although the setting is
the film is a British production – from Forward Films and the BBC, with a little help from the UK Film Council (R.I.P.). Although the film has been snubbed by the Oscars it is up for three BAFTAs – Outsanding British Film, Best Director, Best Actress – and I wish those nominees the best of luck on Sunday February 12th. America