Jeremy Diemert’s review published on Letterboxd:
Perhaps the most chilling depiction of grief and trauma I have ever seen depicted in a cinematic form, 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' is a new personal favorite despite being an incredibly difficult film to watch. Recently, while struggling with a more acute depression than usual, I have often been compelled to watch stories where world is depicted as black-and-white and where a line is clearly drawn between good and evil. At times, yes, it can be nice to enjoy a film or series where reality is heightened and we are, for a brief moment, transported to a simpler and more straightforward world. 'We Need to Talk About Kevin', on the other hand, could not be further away from these types of narratives: there is nothing fictitious or false about it, this is an unflinching look at trauma and guilt that demands to be viewed and analysed.
From many of the reviews and reactions to this film I've read online, the general consensus seems to be mixed, but one of the more consistent mistakes I've seen many of the mainstream film critics relay in their write-ups is that this is a hopeless film about a depraved sociopath whose heinous act of violence was unavoidable. Do we really know why Kevin's character has these antisocial tendencies? Do we know what drives him to massacre the students at his school? No, we do not, and that is not a criticism of the characterization of Kevin, because ultimately this film is not about Kevin's mentality or even the act that he commits while being in that mental state; this film is ultimately a portrait of loss and grief as seen through the eyes of Kevin's mother, Eva (played by Tilda Swinton).
The other major mistake people are making when discussing this film, one which I pointed out in the previous paragraph, is viewing this film as a misanthropic and nihilistic take on humanity and the evil actions an individual can perform on his fellow man. Yes, this film is incredibly dark and disturbing, but there are beautiful moments of empathy and compassion scattered throughout its run-time (three, in particular) where a genuine hopefulness radiates from the scene. I actually found the ending to this film cathartic and moving in a way few pieces of art even attempt to be. Of course, this is not a feel-good movie, far from it, but it is does what all the great works of art do: allow us to fully empathize with another living being.
Now, aside from my personal and emotional reaction to this film, it is of the utmost importance to talk about the brilliance, care, and passion demonstrated by everyone involved in this project (both on and off the camera). Lynne Ramsay, a director whose filmography I had never examined before this, makes some of the most genuinely brilliant creative decisions regarding this film. The decision to tell the story in a completely disjointed and fragmented way (a decision the movie shares with the novel it is based on) made this a much more unique and powerful experience than a linear story. Every scene is disjointed and out of place to represent the shattered psyche of Eva, yet despite the non-linear nature of the story, everything fits together perfectly as a cohesive narrative.
The shot composition of this film is astounding, as just on my first viewing, there is a massive amount of detail, attention, and care put into each frame; from the color pallet, to the lighting, to minute details in the background, there is an unbelievable attention to detail here. Without trying to sound incredibly impressionable, I don't think I've ever seen a film this well directed. After my initial viewing of this project, I have a strong urge to order the rest of Lynne Ramsay's filmography on blu-ray off Amazon and dive into what else this auteur has to offer. While I have heard criticisms of Ramsay's direction and many of the visual choices made in this film, I strongly disagree with them and I personally believe everything meshes together perfectly. The cinematography, photographed by Seamus Mcgarvey, is stark and evolves and with each scene, making this film feel as vivid and realistic as possible. As stated before, each shot is set up impeccably.
The talent on display here by the actors equals that of the behind-the-camera talent, with Tilda Swinton doing a lot of heavy lifting, her eyes and facial expression conveying her inner-most feelings and emotions in every scene. Even if it weren't for the changes in Eva's physical appearance throughout the different time periods the narrative focuses on, you could easily tell when each scene takes place by just the facial details expressed by Swinton so subtly and naturally. She is a performer at the top of her game here and I have never seen her better than she is here; in fact, it is incredibly rare any performer reaches the heights she does with her performance in this picture.
Ezra Miller, who plays a teenage Kevin, is terrifying and is just as good as Swinton despite having less screen-time. Nearly every scene he is in, we see a vindictive darkness creep over his face, and I truly bought him as a sociopath. Miller has incredible range and to see him go from this to some of the other roles he has played in recent years, is mesmerizing. It's not until the final moments of the film that we see any humanity in Kevin and during that last scene we see him vulnerable and afraid, as him and his mother (to the best of their abilities in a situation like this) reconcile. Both actors let this moment play out beautifully and seeing Miller's Kevin show genuine emotion, perhaps even regret, was a wonderful moment that gave the film some emotional closure.
There are two child actors who play Kevin in different stages in his life and they are exceptional as well. The haunting and dark presence of Kevin is tangible in him from a very young age and these two children pull of the sadism and hatred with Kevin in a very believable and terrifying manner. John C. Reilly is, of course, great here, proving he can shine in just about any role he is given. While he doesn't have as many scenes as Swinton or Miller, he still standouts as a vulnerable, sometimes naive, man who wants the best for his family. The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic as well, despite this being primarily the story of Eva and Kevin.
There are few films than have given me this powerful of an outlet for an emotional release, and despite the uncompromising darkness and evil present in this film, this is one of the most human films I have ever seen. An instant favorite and a personal masterpiece. This is truly one of the greatest cinematic achievements I've ever seen and a powerful statement on the visual medium as an essential part of the human experience.