Cannes 2011 Capsule Review – We Need to Talk About Kevin

While there is a lot to admire in Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, an hour after the end of the screening my reservations keep growing. Now that the emotional soufflé has collapsed somehow, the over-aestheticization of the mise-en-scène sadly prevails against and complicates in vain the unfolding of the serpentine narrative. Once again, the über impeccable Tilda Swinton cannibalizes a tormented fiction, for better or worse. Her portrayal of a mother who is suffocating from guilt impresses and instantaneously catapults the British actress to the very top of the Cannes awards list for next Sunday. But…there’s the rub. In this entangled family drama, the Jarman icon seems to be acting alone, often gazing in the distance, both bemused and catatonic in her body movements. John C. Reilly, as the nearly nonexistent father/husband, and Ezra Miller, as the angel-of-death son, are so one-dimensional and their acting is so detached and lacking charisma that one just cannot combine the various plot elements altogether when trying to recompose this family’s lugubrious puzzle. The Elephant and Columbine references are way too obvious to be ignored here, but stylistically speaking Ramsay is no Van Sant. The slaughter scene in particular – perpetrated by Ezra and at the very core of the fictional reversal – condenses all of Ramsay’s directorial quirks. The way she literally focuses on the mothers’ grimacing faces when they discover the mass murder exemplifies Ramsay’s inability to keep a salutary distance with her subject matter. The director seems to be constantly trying to impress her viewers with her gaudy visuals and overuse of music, and ultimately abandons us, and her lead actress at the same time, in a deserted state of impossible resilience.