Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Doman, Ekaterina Samsonov
Review Author: Tony
Lynne Ramsay is a name I won’t soon forget. Embarrassingly, Ramsay has not been on my radar at all. Outside of We Need To Talk About Kevin (great film), I have not seen any of her previous films and somehow never followed up on her work. This has truly been my loss as You Were Never Really Here is a masterpiece of filmmaking and a far more daring and provocative film than I could have expected.
Joe, a former military man and FBI agent is a hired gun specializing in rescuing girls sold into sexual slavery and human trafficking. He suffers from a post-traumatic stress disorder due to traumatic events experienced during his childhood and both military and FBI career. His PTSD causes horrific and debilitating flashbacks that haunt Joe and give him suicidal tendencies. Joe is offered a new job by a New York state senator to find his daughter, who he believes has been trafficked, and inflict a world of pain on her potential captors.
Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing, he’s the embodiment of trauma, a man who wears his scars both physical and mental on his face, in his mannerisms and even his posture. At a career heaviest and sporting a mangy haircut and tattered beard, Phoenix is almost unrecognizable. His character, Joe, is a man who only knows suffering so he uses his skills to inflict suffering on those who unquestionably deserve it. Further hammering home my point of blunt force trauma, Joes weapon of choice is a hammer which he skillfully uses to deliver justice by caving in the skulls of traffickers and pedophiles.
Early on with the film opening to a grizzled protagonist of few words, a neon-soaked cityscape, and a thumping synth soundtrack I was already drawing comparisons to the works of Nicholas Winding Refn and the Safdie brothers, directors I hold in very high regard. Even the trailer seemed like a callback to Refn’s much-loved ultra-cool neo-noir thriller, Drive. Despite these comparisons, Ramsay is just on another level. Whereas Refn utilizes a pulpy, stylized approach to his exploitation type arthouse films, his vision can become indulgent and rely a little too heavily on ultraviolence and shock value. Ramsay displays a restraint that Refn just wouldn’t understand. You Were Never Really Here is a violent and desolate story but doesn’t relish in gore and guts, sure people are having their heads caved in with a ball-peen hammer but the camera isn’t interested in capturing the gory details, the act and impact are still there it’s just not gratuitous.
You Were Never Really Here is a methodical and traumatic character study of a man living between life and death. Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix are an impeccable pairing bringing out the best in each other which begs for future collaborations. The film is an exemplification of flawless filmmaking utilizing illicit visuals, unnerving sound design and a masterclass in blocking as the camera captures every painstaking moment on Phoenix’s face. It’s a career-defining film and certainly one of the most understated yet expressive films I’ve ever seen. Clocking in at a perfect 90 minutes, You Were Never Really Here is a tour de force of brutality, suffering, and isolation that catapults Ramsay to the top of the best British filmmakers working today.
Rating: 4.75 / 5 Tumblers of Scotch