Monday, 20 February 2012

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN - Review by Greg Klymkiw - I find this sort of cerebral, trick-pony approach to horrific events vaguely offensive - artistically and morally. Give me the simple, straight-up, profoundly moving "Polytechnique" anytime.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich


By Greg Klymkiw

Some might suggest that bopping around in time and space with dollops of dream imagery is art. It can be, but there is such a thing as bad art. Lynne Ramsay's new film - obtuse, mired in precious imagery, confusing narrative details and oh-so earnest (albeit fine) performances - is exactly the sort of film that appeals to psueds. They desperately desire to be taken seriously (mostly, I suspect, by other pseuds) and need healthy doses of un-sugar-coated horror mired in arty-farty tropes. This allows them to think they're sophisticated, even though they are, in reality, gulping down several gallons of bilge water to justify this pathetic form of self-congratulation.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (based on Lionel Shriver's acclaimed novel) drags us through the mire of one family's tragedy through fragments of the main character's mind - battered and deteriorated either by a mental breakdown instigated by a horrendous event or straight-up mental illness that was there from the beginning.

Strictly on the basis of the first time we see Eva (Tilda Swinton), I choose mental illness.

There she is, lolling about in some sort of Parisian outdoor orgy involving hundreds of sardine-packed losers swimming in pools of crushed tomatoes. This is clearly mental illness. Or stupidity. Or both.

Ah, but perhaps I'm being uncharitable. When we're young, surely we all enjoy exploring Europe on $5.00 a day, living in smelly hostels, backpacking through various non-touristy nooks and crannies and swimming in tomato sauce with hundreds of sweaty, unwashed Frenchmen.

We do, however, all grow up and Eva is no different. After swimming in tomato sauce, she puts her youthful penchant for such activities behind her and ends up marrying kindly, but somewhat dopey Franklin (John C. Reilly). They settle into a humungous palatial home in a weird small town in what I believe is some state in the southern U.S. of A.

Franklin appears to have no job, yet they live in an expensive home - one that seems bereft of more than a few sticks of furniture. Perhaps this is because Franklin does not have a job (which again begs the question how they can afford to live there - furniture or not).

Or maybe, just maybe, it's ever-so symbolic of how some people never really move into a home - that the notion of "home" eludes them.

"Good Grief," as Charlie Brown might say.

We get snippets of early romance twixt this mis-matched pair (which THANKFULLY includes darkly lit sexual hijinx) until the bulk of the movie takes us through three periods in their life with first-born Kevin (Rock Duer as toddler, Jasper Newell at age 8, Ezra Miller as teen). Buried amidst Ramsay's precious back-and-forth, this-way-and-that, all-over-the-bloody-place timelines, we discover Eva was indifferent about pregnancy in the first place and that Kevin, from birth it seems, is a nasty, uncaring little bugger with clearly psychopathic tendencies. Eva pretty much can't stand her child and in turn, the kid does everything in his power to make Eva's life miserable. On the other hand, Franklin and Kevin are seemingly perfect father-son soul mates - which, of course, befuddles and angers Eva.

At various points in the messy timelines, we get hints that something horrible has gone down. Seeing as Kevin is a psychopath and that Franklin, who can't see this, encourages his son in the art of archery, it's certainly no surprise early on that Kevin does something - shall we say - not very nice.

Luckily, Eva and Franklin eventually have another child - a sweet little girl, Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). Given how loveable she is and what a horrid psychopath Kevin is (and, allow me to reiterate his penchant for archery), the occasional flash-forwards to Celia wearing an eyepatch suggests. . . well, I'm sure you get the picture.

I certainly did.

But wait! That's not all. Eyeless Celia is just the tip of the iceberg of horror. We know this because director Lynne Ramsay serves up snippets of Mom being harassed by media outside of a courtroom (sans Celia and Franklin), messy flashbacks and flash forwards to Eva living ALONE in some squalid house that's been splashed with red paint by local vandals and Eva desperately taking a job as a steno girl at a local travel agency.

We're further tipped off to some manner of malevolent shenanigans when Eva is accosted by Bible-Belt types in the street with slaps to her face and most ludicrous of all, a scene where Kevin orders a huge box of bicycle locks off e-Bay and does not offer, nor is even properly probed, for a reason why he's done this.

At this point, I kid you not, I thought: "Hmmm, those locks would be ideal to secure a big room full of people in order to take them all out, one-by-one."

"Good guess," I thought at a later point in the proceedings. Like the aforementioned pseuds, I gave myself a healthy pat on the back.

It's clear, almost from the beginning of this movie, due to the fractured narrative style, that Kevin will be indulging himself in a bit of the old ultra-violence - though perhaps not as entertainingly as that wrought by Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

It is also at this point that Ramsay is not so much presenting fragments of Eva's insanity, but is rather recreating (not all that successfully) the sort of thing most people do when tragedy strikes - they go over and over it, again and again, in order to make sense of it all.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is precisely the kind of movie an artiste makes when it's desired to make some social commentary on things the creator really knows nothing about. The sense of place is completely without realism (the artiste and her supporters might argue this is intentional) and there are holes in the narrative that one can drive a Mack Truck through (also, no doubt - ahem - intentional).

At a certain point in the proceedings, all I could think about was the GENUINE artistry that Quebec director Denis Villeneuve displayed in Polytechnique, his haunting, harrowing cinematic rendering of Marc Lepine's mass murder spree in Montreal. Villeneuve captured a time and place with such utter perfection - delivering a movie that did not live and die by pretentious trick-pony techniques as Ramsay's abominable film does.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is not without some saving graces. The performances of all three actors who play Kevin at various junctures in his life are phenomenal - we DO believe this is the same person throughout. John C. Reilly is, well, he's John C. Reilly - he's always tremendous to watch. Tilda Swinton suffers with her prim professionalism, but frankly seems so out of place in the milieu that it was ultimately impossible to buy her performance. This might not all be Swinton's fault since Ramsay completely botches the milieu. I still have no idea where and when this movie really takes place. Given the sloppiness of the storytelling, I'll concede I might have missed this point. Then again, as it's all through Eva's skewed perspective, it might be all, uh. . . I guess it's perhaps, uh. . . intentional.

Good grief, indeed!

Filmmakers who purport to care about their characters, but can only enter the lives of their characters by affixing some arty-farty technique that's rooted in the filmmakers's unflagging faith in their own apparent "brilliance" pretty much sickens me - especially when these stories deal with acts of violence perpetrated against children.

In Lynne Ramsay's case, this plodding, ugly mess of a movie makes me wonder if she knows ANYTHING about the human condition worth rendering on film and worst all, makes me second-guess the seemingly fine work she did directing her debut 1999 feature Ratcatcher.

"We Need To Talk About Kevin" is currently in theatrical release via E-One Films.