Thursday, 26 April 2018

You Were Never Really Here


Not too many films written and directed by a woman have gotten a ‘wow’ from me, and very few of those are dark and violent psychological thrillers. But the times are changing and I expect to find a lot more films made by women on my top ten lists in the years ahead. That is a very good thing (i.e. it’s about time). You Were Never Really Here is written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, who made one of my top ten films of the year in 2011: We Need to Talk About Kevin (also a dark psychological thriller). She is likely to get on my list again this year with what I can only describe as a masterpiece of cinematic art, albeit a brutal masterpiece that is very hard to watch (as was Kevin) and that most of you will want to stay away from.

You Were Never Really Here features one of the darkest, most well-developed and most fascinating protagonists I have ever seen. His name is Joe and he is played sublimely by Joaquin Phoenix, who surely deserves an Oscar for his performance. Joe is a troubled (understatement!) Gulf War veteran with a nightmarish childhood who specializes in finding missing teens and making sure anyone abusing those teens pays a price. He is a brutal man whose weapon of choice is a hammer. Few survive a violent encounter with him. 

But this only scratches the surface of who Joe is. Joe is also a loving son who regularly looks in on his very old mother (Judith Roberts). And he is a man whose suffering is so deep that he contemplates taking his own life every minute of every day. Joe is a lost soul living in an unimaginable internal hell. When he is called upon to retrieve a senator’s 13-year-old daughter from a gang of nasty fellows, Joe seems to be just going through the motions. But his life will change dramatically from the moment he finds the girl (Nina, played by Ekaterina Samsonov), spiralling out of control as he tries to hang on to a last vestige of sanity. 

Through it all, many people will lose their lives, often in a grisly manner. But while a few of these deaths are shown in graphic detail, the majority happen away from the camera (a very wise decision). Speaking of which, the cinematography is extraordinary, infusing this thriller with a unique breathtaking style, aided by the use of sound and the often loud score (typical of Ramsay), which overwhelms at places in just the right way to allow you to feel what Joe is feeling, to see New York City the way he sees it. The result is mesmerizing, drawing you in to Joe’s world, a place no one wants to live.

As you know, I am no fan of horrifically violent films and I especially detest violent revenge films, but You Were Never Really Here is not like any violent film I have watched. There are moments that make you think you’re watching just another revenge film, albeit a very stylistic arthouse revenge film, but to me this film is not about revenge or violence, neither of which are meant to satisfy or entertain in any way - those are only side-stories in the nightmarish tale of Joe.  

The last time I saw a critically-acclaimed, raw, brutal, stylistic thriller (Good Time), I was hugely disappointed. Not this time. This time I was blown away. You Were Never Really Here gets an easy ****. My mug is up, but this film is also not a ‘good time’, so be warned. 

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