Film review by Claire Durrant of You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquín Phoenix and directed by Lynn Ramsay.
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Former veteran and PTSD sufferer Joe (Joaquín Phoenix) tracks and saves missing girls for a living. When a State Senator (Alex Manette) asks Joe to find his missing teenaged daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), he finds himself stuck within a conspiracy. Armed with a hammer, Joe sets out to finish his job, all the while haunted by tragic memories.
Review, by Claire Durrant
A Lynne Ramsay film is as rare as snow falling in March in Britain – until The Beast From the East paid a visit this year.
And just like this unexpectedly cool, white weather we have been facing, her films too balance the relentlessly brutal and the poetically beautiful. What Ramsay may lack in quantity (with her latest feature being her fourth full length picture) she definitely makes up for in quality.
Based on the novella of the same name, You Were Never Really Here surpasses her previous films. This film is cinema at its finest!
The setup of a hardboiled, violent male searching for an endangered, young female and attacking those who come in his path, is a common one. It is easy to compare YWNRT to the likes of Taken (2008) and Taxi Driver (1976), but what Ramsay does differently is to not focus on the plot or violence, but rather she creates an in-depth character study of a broken man.
In fact the violence is rarely gratuitous. There is a scene where Joe attacks the patrons of a brothel. Yet this is all captured through CCTV cameras. As an audience we are disconnected from the violence taking place, which is exactly how Joe feels. Most of the time however, we get shots of the aftermath of Joe’s attacks. Ramsay ensures the sole focus are the emotions and memories her leading character is battling with.
Joe is a concoction of opposing traits. He is suicidal, yet driven. He is both ferocious and gentle. One scene he is performing self-asphyxiation or dangling a dagger above his open mouth. The next, he is bashing skulls in, then afterwards he is being compassionate; be that towards his mother (Judith Roberts), Nina or even a neighbourhood cat. It all makes for a compelling character.
Phoenix, who has packed on a ton of mass and muscle, gives one of his greatest performances, and is truly deserving of his Best Actor achievement at Cannes. His partnership with a visionary director like Ramsay establishes tragically beautiful moments of film; especially the underwater scene that is genuinely breathtaking. The way Ramsay uses light, colour and sound is simply masterful.
With a narrative that doesn’t pander to its audience, and a pulp noir style aided by Jonny Greenwood’s score of new wave synth and painful strings; Lynne Ramsay has made something unforgettable to me. It is such a shame then that this film will be forgotten by others due to cinemas overshadowing You Were Never Really Here with (too) many screenings of Peter Rabbit (2018).
I implore you to watch YWNRH if you can.
Don’t watch Peter Rabbit!
Cast and Credits
Director: Lynne Ramsay. Why Not Productions/Film4/BFI.
Producers: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Lynne Ramsay, James Wilson.
Writer: Lynne Ramsay.
Camera: Thomas Townend.
Music: Jonny Greenwood.
Sets: Tim Grimes.
Joaquín Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Butler, Alex Manette, John Doman, Frank Pando.