You Were Never Really Here, 2017.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsanov, Alessandro Nivola, and Judith Roberts.
When a teenage girl (Ekaterina Samsanov) goes missing, a fixer (Joaquin Phoenix) with a unique skillset is sent to hammer out some justice on those responsible.
It takes a very special film to leave you stunned in your seat whilst the credits roll, collecting your thoughts in the dark, not quite ready to bleed into the reality of the outside world. Lynne Ramsay achieved it with the emotional wallop of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and now she has done it again, in a slightly more perplexing manner with You Were Never Really Here. It’s a film in the form of a slight burst of existential violence, with a man on fire central performance from the bearded shuffling monolith of Joaquin Phoenix.
With a plot that’s relatively simple, and a ninety minute runtime with which to exacerbate the gut-punch nature of the film, You Were Never Really Here’s complexities can be found on the hunched shoulders of Phoenix. Economic with words, he is a quiet spectre who offers up insight with his actions. Whether that’s the way he dotes on his mother (Judith Roberts), who watches Psycho in a not so subtle nod to their relationship, or how he regularly self-asphyxiates with a plastic bag as a way to feel alive in a world of dim lighting and decay. It’s a performance that challenges the audience, provoking fear, sympathy, and condemnation in equal measure.
Matching the subtleties of Phoenix is the film’s composition, with Ramsay underplaying almost every aspect of it. The main vengeance sequence largely plays out through CCTV imagery, allowing you to feel the full effect of Phoenix’s Joe ghosting around the frame to take down the ‘bad guys’. In fact most of the violence takes place off-screen, we just see the bloodied weapons or battle scars, the searing pain of which is palpable.
In such moments you’re truly gripped, never quite sure where this overwhelmingly bleak journey is taking you, which is why some might be left frustrated by the beautifully ambiguous resolution. It’s holding up a mirror to world of uncertainty, refusing to offer the viewer or Phoenix the promise of salvation. Deal with it.
You Were Never Really Here is the cinematic equivalent of a bruise; it hurts, bloodies, and leaves a mark that will last for days.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★