Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"It was St. Sebastian I thought of, and his arrows..."

So jokes Nick Cave at one point in his darkly comic song about a psychopath killing all the patrons in a small-town bar, "O'Malley's Bar", off the classic album Murder Ballads.

It's an album about murder and death that deals with both man's drive towards destruction, while also examining the wreckage in the aftermath. For an album about murder, it never languishes in one mood for too long, while never shying away from the ugliness of man's inhumanity towards man.

I can't really say WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN ever hits that sweet spot. It's half of a great movie, with beautiful and evocative imagery, and a great central performance by Tilda Swinton as a woman who is first ambivalent about the joys of motherhood and then ambivalent towards her existence in toto.

But this movie is about Swinton's character's relationship with her psychopathic son, and, while Tilda is always very convincing and real, her son (played by Ezra Miller) comes off as a cross between a comic book super-villain and Hannibal Lecter. I should say, this is not totally Miller's fault. Sometimes he underplays the material quite well, and his final scene, where his defenses are stripped away and he's forced to confront his choices, is affecting.

It's that the script expects us to believe not only in Miller's escalating psychopathy, but that his boyish facade only ever slips for precisely one person, leaving the whole world fooled until the s**t hits the fan. The screenwriters seem to think that most psychopaths operate along the same rules as Snuffleupagus and the Great Gazoo.

WNTTAK is a film so unceasing in its miserabilism and so heavy-handed in way it drops s**t on Swinton's character, that it provokes an incredulous response. I spent a good portion of the film wanting to shout "Bullshit" at the screen.

Which is frustrating, because the few moments when Lynne Ramsay lets the leaden depression go for a moment, Swinton's plight becomes more tragic. There's a moment in a parking lot where Swinton runs into one of her son's victims, and the young man greets her with compassion and kindness. We can see the pain and guilt on Swinton's face, and it is so much harder to dismiss than the other victims' parents who act like bullies.

 David Cairns and Tim Brayton have more in-depth reviews that are very perceptive and fascinating, but I just had to get those thoughts out there.