You Were Never Really Here - 2018
Director(s): Lynne Ramsay
Writer(s): Lynne Ramsay (screenplay) / Jonathan Ames (book)
Cinematography by: Thomas Townend
Editor(s): Joe Bini
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts and Ekaterina Samsonov
Synopsis: A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe's nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening (IMDB).
OK so, I was looking forward to this movie ever since it was announced that Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk about Kevin) was teaming up with Joaquin Phoenix. Knowing her style of filmmaking and his ability to completely embody his characters, I knew it was a movie to look out for. It premiered in Cannes, an unfinished version, and Ramsay won Best Screenplay and Phoenix won Best actor. This only fueled the hype I had built in my head. I got to watch it over the weekend and I waited two days to sit down to write out what I though and I’m still pretty sure I’m going to need more time to digest… but here we go.
Quick note: I went into this movie blind. Didn’t read synopsis, didn’t watch a trailer and I didn’t read a review. I’m 100% sure I benefited from that exercise as I just simply deep dove into this dark, dirty and unforgiving world without a single expectation outside of my excitement.
Lynne Ramsay is a force of visual story telling that is deeply missing in Hollywood. Cinematographer Thomas Townend and Ramsay shot this beautiful-ugly-dirty movie up close, not letting the audience escape the situation. During almost all the violent scenes, we are engrossed in the situation as the camera is in tightly on Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as he fights his way out of peril. The camera rarely pans away from our characters, not letting the audience get a single step ahead of what’s to come, creating a tense and suffocating experience. But, when Ramsey and Townend do let the audience take a breath and pull back, it’s for the benefit of the story. We get one of the most beautiful sequences of underwater cinematography that is perfectly akin to last year’s The Shape of Water. It stands out since its one of the lone scenes of nature in the movie and because of the wide-angle camera shot employed in the sequence. It’s a scene that is both heartbreaking and weirdly heartwarming despite its deeply dark subject matter.
Quick note: along with this movie and last year’s Good Time, the gritty, seedy and slimy streets of New York that made Martin Scorsese stand-out among its peers is well back in the spotlight.
This screenplay is an incredible piece of writing by Ramsay. There isn’t a single scene in this movie where a character vomits a line of exposition because she doesn’t trust the audience to piece the puzzle together. Every line of information given to Joe is something he needs to further advance the plot and the audience is just along for the ride. The rest is told to us through Phoenix’s haunting performance and a series of flashbacks woven in-between to complete the picture of who our hero is and why he is this way. What you are left with is a broken man trying to right the wrongs of his past by saving the people who can’t save themselves, all while fighting off his own inner demons that are pushing him closer to the edge.
The inner demons are fully represented by the unrelenting city noises of New York City as Ramsay pumps in the sounds and cries from start to finish. They are loud and inconvenient as the voices and the images that follow Joe everywhere no matter what he does or says. Along with the noises of the city, the score adds to the maddening tension that this movie imposes over its audience. Jonny Greenwood continues to prove his is one of the most diverse and creative composers working today. Greenwood captured perfectly the manic state of Joe as he tries to grapple with the situation he finds himself in. The score is brutal and heart pumping never letting you take a breath.
Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible actor. There are very few roles in his resume that would contradict that statement. His made me believe he was a reclusive, depressed man that fell in love with an AI in HER, I saw young Johnny Cash comeback to life in Walk the Line and I was deeply disturbed and intrigued by his character from The Master. Here he plays Joe, a man in constant physical and emotional pain that he manages to showcase through his physic and his facial expressions. Phoenix showcased an ability to always be in control despite being completely out of control both with his emotions and the situation he stumbles onto. A broken man with a dark past that life seems to not want to give a break, yet he keeps moving forward trying to fix what he see wrong in the world. He is a top contender for the Oscar this year.
Quick note: the easy comparison is Taxi Driver, but I also see a lot of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil as influences. Even though this movie is not “fun” to watch, I will be re-watching it a lot.
You Were Never Really Here is a visually impacting revenge thriller that holds back no punches, leaving the audience punch drunk as they walk out of the screening. There are sequences of beauty and ugliness that will stay with you for the same reasons. With a haunting performance by Phoenix in the hands of one of the most unique visual directors working today, I can see this movie quickly claiming a modern classic moniker in years to come. It’s easy to say that this movie is not for everyone, but none can’t deny the masterclass of filmmaking and acting encapsulated inside its runtime. Ramsay is why I love movies
You Were Never Really Here is currently playing in select theaters. I mean go watch it, will ya?
If you like this review let me know in the comment section down below. Subscribe to my newsletter so you are always up to date with all my reviews. Also, follow me over at Twitter (@yILovemovies) or over on Facebook if you want to have a conversation about movies.