DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
The main reason I put off watching this for so long is its source material. Lionel Shriver's novel is an amazing piece of fiction that gnaws on your soul by asking the toughest questions imaginable without granting its readers the comfort of easy answers. It explores the age old discussion on nature versus nurture. It does so by relating a story about a boy committing an evil deed, presented through a series of letters written by the boy‘s mother. She is constantly asking herself whether it is her fault that her son is the way he is or whether he was born evil. It also shows how something like a high-school shooting affects a community, but moreover the family members of the evildoer.
Thematically, this novel lends itself really well for an adaptation, but the narrative structure and subsequent ambiguity of the narrator are impossible to translate to film. And the strength of Lynn Ramsay's film is that it understands this perfectly. The script jumps back and forth through time, never leaving Swinton's character and through her memories and doubts it asks the same questions the novel does, albeit in a bit more straightforward manner. And even though it doesn't forcefully present answers it does seem to try to steer its conclusion more towards the 'nature' side of the argument, where the book remains more ambivalent.
The casting is outstanding and the performances are equally impressive. Swinton carries the film with impressive ease, beautifully giving shape to the various stages in her character's life and making you involved in her world and her doubts. Ezra Miller's Kevin is easy to hate and I guess that is credit to his performance. All the Kevins of various ages are great, always coming across as menacing, always on the brink of violence.
I do have problems with the film, however. What I missed was a certain nuance in how it tells its story. It seems intent on siding with Swinton, whereas the beauty of the novel lay in the fact that it did not pick sides. The novel hints at a certain responsibility and shared guilt of the parents (in this case most notably the mother), but the film is clearly inent on making Kevin undeniably evil. This is not something that needed to be altered.
I was also not very keen on the overuse of the colour red. At first I felt its symbolism to work really well, but after a while it became a bit too intrusive, losing its subtlety altogether.
Having said all that, this is an impressive film that manages to capture most of its source material‘s bleakness and disturbing message really well and as such it is deserving of a good deal of praise.