Review: You Were Never Really Here
It is one thing to be excited for a new Lynne Ramsay film, it is another thing entirely to have your expectations met and exceeded with a flawless 89 minute feature. Lynne’s previous effort We Need To Talk About Kevin was an absolute knockout with an intense story and another amazing turn from Tilda Swinton. It was a film that stayed with me for months. Lynne has an amazing ability to tap into trauma without losing sight of the overall story. You Were Never Really Here not only sets in stone that Lynne is not here to play around, it also puts every director on notice. Her control on both films is uncanny with a natural ability to get under your skin, creating indestructible dramas in the process.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe, a military vet who now takes jobs rescuing kids from sex rings and other horrible places. Joe is hired because he never fails and he is unflinching in destroying any and all kidnappers. Joe is hired to retrieve a Senator's daughter, but when the job goes sideways it's up to Joe to figure out how this whole thing went rotten. Joaquin won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for this performance and you can easily see why. Like The Master before it, he is on another plane of existence in this film. A raw nerve of a human roaming this Earth like a monster. He is an unstoppable force who destroys anything he is sicked on. In an early scene some poor soul tries to mug Joe. He ends up on the floor puking up his own blood after his nose has been broken by a headbutt. Joe walks away as if nothing even happened, telling you everything you need to know about the character.
I mentioned trauma earlier and this is a major theme of the entire film. Joe came from an abusive home where he and his mother were victims to a malicious father. War in the Middle East hurt his soul as well, with emphasis on the death of a child. All of this pain molds him into the beast is today which is why he chooses jobs where he saves kids from trauma. He is kind of saving himself on these dark missions. Phoenix with his beard and longish hair move through this piece with pain, but most importantly purpose. There are several scenes where we watch his routine, and you can tell he his not a guy to talk to. It goes beyond looking mean or menacing, it is a powerful all-too-real performance that is held upright with Lynne’s genius directing and Jonny Greenwood’s incredible score. It’s a magical blend that cooks just right and deserves to be celebrated. Phoenix delivers on such bleak material causing the viewing to relate yet not want to go anywhere near him. A fine line that Phoenix seems to waltz on.
With this film, Lynne Ramsay has made back-to-back masterworks. Go back and dig into her filmography if you have not done so already. She is a director that deserves to be championed as a heroine saving cinema. Her camera is always in the right place, the cuts or edits are perfect for the material presented, and she just gets better and better with each film. Lynne does better than most men would with this material, full stop. Her brutality is never senseless as the final scene in his film perfectly illustrates. Violence in cinema will never leave anytime soon and make no mistake, this is a very violent film. It is how you tell the tale that makes all the difference. Ramsay is the truth and should be on a shortlist for tough material handled with absolute perfection.
Sometimes you can watch an opening to a film and get a great feeling right out the gate. You Were Never Really Here opens wonderfully and never relents. From the way the film title is presented to you to the way it continues to move throughout, I would go so far as to call it pitch perfect. Hell, I’ve used masterwork already. In a sea of hyperbole and festival hype, I know this is an easy thing to blurt out, but I am going to that hill and I am dying on it. Just leave a ball peen hammer instead of flowers when you visit my grave please. This is a motion picture I will never shake and couldn’t be happier about it.