Lynne Ramsay's slow-burn drama tackles the difficult relationship between a mother and the teen-age son she has long believed is willfully bad. Told in a nonlinear fashion, through flashbacks and disconnected snippets, the film slowly introduces the viewer to Eva (Tilda Swinton), a travel writer who has a child named Kevin with her photographer husband (John C. Reilly). It's suggested that the bond is troubled from the start — that Eva perhaps doesn't care for motherhood, or that the child might have emotional issues, even as an infant.
Are Kevin's problems rooted in nature or nuture? And what of Kevin's loving relationship with his father, whom Eva, the primary caregiver, accuses of being oblivious to their son's disturbing tendencies? Can a small child be inherently evil, and if so, can a parent even mitigate this condition? From the outset, we know things will end badly: When we meet her, Eva is living alone; her house has been vandalized; and she's shuffling through life in a stupor.
Though the supporting cast are good, this is Swinton's film: The long stretches without any meaningful dialogue demand her skill in conveying myriad intense emotions, and her stripped-down performance is riveting in all its devastating twists and turns.
Ultimately, the storyline isn't nearly as shocking as the path Swinton and Ramsay choose to present for Eva. It shreds our romantic expectations about motherhood, and leaves us to decide how much understanding and rehabilitation Eva and/or Kevin deserve. Starts Fri., March 2. Manor