By John H. Foote
Not only should Tilda Swinton have been nominated for Best Actress for her stunning, heartbreaking performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin, the actress should have WON Best Actress. There was no greater a performance by an actress in 2011 than Swinton as a broken mother and wife, Eva, dealing with the aftermath of her son’s murders at his school. Armed with a bow and arrows, her teenage son Kevin, brilliantly portrayed by Ezra Miller, walks into his high school and begins firing arrows at anyone he sees. This is after he has already killed his loving father and little sister, leaving them dead in the yard.
In the present, after the murders, Eva (Swinton) was once a very successful travel writer, her books best sellers, and she became a mom after her husband wanted children. She did not. Her first child, Kevin, is enormously difficult, crying relentlessly (but only around her) and as he grows he challenges Eva with his defiance. He refuses to be toilet trained, though she knows he already is, and refuses to do anything she asks. Around his father he is a happy, loving and smiling little boy but around Eva he is sullen and angry. Her second child, a lovely little girl, is the complete opposite of Kevin and, after she is blinded in one eye, Eva suspects Kevin to be responsible. She fears him and does her best to protect her little girl.
One day Kevin, nearly 16, goes to school after killing his sister and father, locks a group of students in the gym and begins shooting at them with his bow and arrow, killing many of them. Eva arrives at the school to see her son being taken out in handcuffs, obviously the killer.
We move back and forth in time as Eva attempts to live her life without her family in a small home, her wealth gone, spent on lawyers for her troubled son. She is openly despised in the community but manages to get a job at a travel agency, where she works quietly minding her own business but even there she cannot escape her son’s deeds. Even when she visits him, he still taunts her, but at the final visit she grabs him and embraces him tightly, perhaps knowing this is the last time she will come to see him.
Swinton is haunting in the role of Eva, a woman broken by the deeds of her son, feeling guilt for all of it, including the deaths of her daughters and husband. She knows she is loathed in the community, but it is close to the jail where her boy is being housed. Swinton is both haunting and haunted as Eva, as we feel her pain because we know what broke her. There is a dark chemistry between she and actor Ezra Miller, who plays the older Kevin, his baleful glare suggesting nightmares.
Swinton is among the greatest actresses of her generation and was never better than she is here. Shattering.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.