"I enjoyed the book more than the film." is an often heard statement. Maybe this is because books generally go into more depth in plotting and characterisation than the celluloid version of the same story is able to. They also take you inside the psyche of the characters a little more, and allow the reader to visualise the action and locations of the story in their mind's eye, as opposed to merely having it all presented for you, leaving nothing to the imagination. There are exceptions of course, and it's often a fine line between the two. (For example, the film rendering of Lord of the Rings was executed with such love and such precision, it's more or less as remarkable an experience as reading the book, in this humble writer's opinion.)
The film adaptation of Lionel Shriver's haunting and thought provoking 2003 work We Need to Talk About Kevin suffers just a little from said lack of depth in comparison with the book. But purely from a practical point of view, in that the film maker must deliver the material in just under two hours as opposed to the author who has almost 500 pages, which may take a number of weeks or even months to read.
The book was quite possibly rather difficult to adapt to a screenplay, since it is far from a traditional narrative. It is written as a series of letters from the main character Eva to her husband Franklin, and leaps around in time quite a bit. Whilst the lack of depth is somewhat of an issue, everything taken into account the film makers have done just about as good a job with it as possibly could have been done. And it should only suffer slightly if you've read the book. People who haven't should find it a dramatic, dark and quite harrowing experience (in the tradition of other great, harrowing movies). But be warned, concentrate closely or it could get a little confusing, with the time splicing effect that is used liberally throughout the movie.
The plot concerns a family in crisis, with the drama centring around the son Kevin, who over the course of the film develops from a precocious and rebellious kid to a mid teens monster capable of horrific acts of violence (of which only the aftermaths are seen), and the often vain attempts of his ill-equipped mother Eva to deal with his behaviour. The major theme/question of the movie 'is such evil a product of nature or nurture' is explored but not answered (and how could it be?).
The performances are strong, however with the vast bulk of the weight falling onto the slim shoulders of Tilda Swinton, who is very convincing as the confused mother who ultimately hasn't a clue how to handle her son's behaviour, and is persecuted for his actions. She, along with the script, relegate John C Reilly's Franklin to a strictly background role, while the three actors who play Kevin at various stages of his early life all do an excellent job of portraying the difficult and volatile Kevin. Ezra Miller's 15 year old Kevin is all barely concealed menace.
The direction by Lynne Ramsay is very effective, with the film's somewhat languid pace building a subtle tension over its course, and a strong feeling that something rather sinister is going to happen. When it does it is dealt with rather tastefully, possibly even perfunctorily.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a taut, edge of the seat thriller, but rather a slow-burn one that sneaks up on you. If you favour frivolous entertainment in your movie going, look elsewhere. If you want something dark , dramatic and a bit unexpected, this film is powerful stuff.
Oh, and if you haven't read the book, do yourself a favour. It's even better.