As the story emerges through numerous flashbacks, Eva must confront son Kevin (Ezra Miller), her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), and the local residents who victimize her with their anger. Swinton's tour de force performance makes Eva's pain, confusion, and vulnerability palpable and poignant. Unfortunately, the complex nature of Kevin's problems, or strategies for treating them constructively, remain unexplored; that is, ironically, the characters don't ever really talk about Kevin in depth, they react to him. That's what the film grapples with—how does a mother accommodate a baby and then a boy and a teenager when they can't bond at all and he behaves abominably.
Writer/director Lynne Ramsay has a knack for presenting difficult physical and psychological situations nonjudgmentally, as she did in her previous Morvern Callar and Ratcatcher. She invites admiration more than catharsis, refusing to soften tough circumstances or to simplify complex emotions. Working with Rory Stewart Kinnear to adapt Lionel Shriver's novel, Ramsay plunges the viewer into a nightmare intensified by the upbeat music, the powerful art direction (especially the use of red), and Tilda Swinton's courageous, unsettling, perfect performance. She shows that Eva's life as a travel writer and publisher delighted her before baby Kevin arrived.
As husband Franklin, John C. Reilly offers Eva no real support in her impossible nightmare. In fact, the staging and pace of many scenes progress like a bad dream as the events register slowly. For example, Eva, unable to bear Kevin's horrid crying or to silence him, pushes his baby carriage over by a jackhammer worker for a moment of peace.
We Need to Talk About Kevin raises issues and asks questions we adults do need to talk about—but seldom do. At a Landmark cinema.