Swinton’s Bow-Shooting Son Targets Hamster; Spy Games: Movies

As a baby, Kevin cries so loudly and so often that his mother, Eva, welcomes the sound of a jackhammer drowning out his screams.

As a child, he splatters his mom’s cherished maps with a paint gun, torments his baby sister and deliberately soils his pants. As an adolescent, he’s suspected of killing the family’s pet hamster and mutilating his sister’s eye with drain cleaner.

Eva recalls all those painful moments as she tries to figure out why her son became a mass murderer in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a skin-crawling drama with a bravura performance by Tilda Swinton.

Based on Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel, Lynne Ramsay’s film is about a mother’s attempt to retrace the roots of madness. Racked by guilt, ostracized by her neighbors and estranged from her husband (a subdued John C. Reilly) after their teenage son commits a Columbine-type massacre at his high school, Eva (Swinton) withdraws into the cocoon of her ramshackle house and mind-numbing office job.

The film is a stark departure from the book, where the story unfolds through letters Eva writes to her husband. Ramsay, who co-wrote the script with Rory Stewart Kinnear, has scrapped the literary approach in favor of a stripped-down series of anecdotes relayed in brief flashbacks, dreams and up-to-date events.

Father in Denial

Kevin -- effectively played at different stages by Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller -- is a ticking time bomb. But Eva finds it impossible to connect with the odd boy who treats her with disdain while openly favoring his see-no-evil father, who acts like Kevin is “John-Boy” Walton.

Though the time-traveling can be disorienting, it’s a powerful way to get inside Eva’s jumbled mind. The film is really more about her than Kevin, whose obsession with the bow- and-arrow he gets as a Christmas gift from his dad foretells the bloody rampage to come.

Swinton’s anguished expressions and zombie-like movements reflect a woman baffled by her predicament and unable to change it.

During a prison visit at the end of the film, Eva asks her son why he did it. He has no answer, and neither do we.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” from Oscilloscope Laboratories, is playing in New York and Los Angeles for a one- week Oscar qualifying run. Rating: ***1/2

‘Tinker, Tailor’

If you’ve seen the acclaimed TV miniseries “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” starring Alec Guinness as master British spy George Smiley, you might wonder why anyone would make another version of John le Carre’s Cold War novel.

I’m wondering myself after watching Tomas Alfredson’s precise but ponderous remake with Gary Oldman taking over the Smiley role.

The film about the hunt for a Soviet mole in the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service (dubbed “the Circus”) is deftly constructed, handsomely photographed drama featuring fine performances by Oldman, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong and other British stars.

But the story is so complex and crammed with so many characters and subplots that it’s better suited to the miniseries format, which broke it down into digestible episodes.

It’s simply too much to absorb in one 128-minute sitting -- even if you’ve read the book and seen the TV adaptation.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” from Focus Features, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2

‘Knuckle’

They’re the Irish version of the Hatfields and McCoys, feuding families that pass their hatred on from generation to generation. Instead of guns, though, they fight with their fists.

The decades-long battle between the Joyces and the Quinn McDonaghs is chronicled in “Knuckle,” a raw documentary about a brutal lifestyle practiced by some Gypsy-like clans known as Irish Travelers.

Filmmaker Ian Palmer spent 12 years following the two related families as they settle disputes with unsanctioned, bare-knuckle bouts that include biting, head-butting and name- calling. Blood is shed and money is exchanged -- there’s heavy betting on the outcomes -- but the enmity doesn’t abate.

Palmer films many of the fights -- which usually take place in remote fields between men with primitive boxing skills -- and records the combatants as they badmouth their rivals.

The origin and length of the feud are fuzzy, though some say it was fueled by a 1992 killing in England. By now, it hardly matters. The hate is as furious as it is puzzling.

“Knuckle,” from Arc Entertainment, is playing in New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
No stars      Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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