Directed By: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
Reviewed By: Hannah Woodhead
Filmmakers like Lynne Ramsay are a rare breed. Although only on her fourth feature, her filmography is a testament to talent and triumph – indeed, she has a gift for the emotionally devastating, each of her films akin to being punched in the ribs hard enough to leave a shocking purple bruise. You Were Never Really Here is her follow-up to 2011’s incredible We Need To Talk About Kevin, and the six years between the two film have been long. Fortunately for audiences, Ramsay’s latest film is worth the wait.
Adapted from Jonathon Ames’ novel of the same name, You Were Never Really Here tells the story of Joe, a reclusive ex-soldier turned hitman who becomes fixated with a case involving the kidnapping of a teenage girl. That’s all you need to, and should, know before seeing the film, which uncoils like a venomous snake, beautiful and terrifying all at once. Simultaneously slow and fast with an impressively short 85 minute runtime, it’s an incredible feat of filmmaking, proving that an incredible amount can be said in next to no time at all.
Of course, it’s impossible to not reflect on the film’s incredible central performance, given by three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix. He plays Joe with his usual brand of fierce but quiet intensity, but brings a sense of child-like naiveté along with it, as well as hinting at unresolved trauma from both childhood abuse and war PTSD. A less talented actor might have struggled to find the heart within such a complex character, but in Phoenix’s hands, Joe is infinitely fascinating. He is the film’s beating, bloody heart, and it’s no surprise that he took the top honour at Cannes earlier this year. A masterclass in subtlety and tangible emotion, he simultaneously draws you in and pushes you away in revulsion.
Paired with Ramsay’s intense visual style is an electric score from Jonny Greenwood, claustrophobic and jarring, as fragmented as the dizzying cinematography that gives You Were Never Really Here its intense, brutal style. Although classified as an action thriller, it’s just as much a character study, hinting at Luc Besson’s Leon the Professional or Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon, but strong enough to stand on its own. This is a film that you cannot forget in a hurry, bleak and devastating, but with the smallest slither of hope amidst the incredible carnage.