You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix who has a reputation in Hollywood for being brilliantly weird in both the roles he has chosen as well in the manner in which he interprets the characters themselves, does nothing to damp down those perceptions in his latest effort called “You Were Never Really Here”.
In this contemporary story we find a hoody wearing man simply named “Joe”. And at the beginning of “Joe’s” story he seems emotionally disturbed in his mannerisms and his interactions with other people; he’s laconic both in conversation and physical movement. However what we discover early from flashbacks is that Joe was an Army Combat veteran and a former FBI agent who now suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Unable to hold a normal job he becomes a hired gun (so to speak) using brutal methods against those he has been contracted to find to dole out the “proper” punishment for his fee. Typically when he is finished with the job he quickly and dutifully heads home to care for his elderly mother in his childhood home in New York City
One day while returning home from a job in Cincinnati, his middleman named McCleary informs Joe about his next job. A New York State Senator, Albert Votto, has offered a very large sum of money to discreetly find and rescue his abducted daughter, Nina. Joe accepts but realizes quickly this job is layered with deceit and criminality that could cost him his life.
REVIEW: The first 15 minutes of the film was as about as odd a looking film as I have ever seen. It meanders about from scenes seemingly not connected to the other. But shortly after the film’s odd tick period is over its plot does come dramatically into better focus similarly to being given a sledge hammered punch to the face. Specifically “You Were Never Really Here” is a modern unnerving adaptation of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”. And while it is not as compelling as the former effort Actor Joaquin Phoenix does bring to life a new kind of “Travis Bickle” who is equally lonely and equally haunted by events in his past. Ultimately his acting work here makes for an impressive film that is a super intense tale of one man's effort to right the wrongs against those who engaged in depraved decadent behavior against the innocent.
WARNING: THIS FILM IS VIOLENT, WITH SCENES OF BRUTALITY AND ADULT SUBJECT MATTERS. “You Were Never Really Here” demands that you look at it. Actually it dares you not to turn your head. And while some of the violence is briefly graphic and grim to watch it is never executed in such a reckless way that strays from the taut plot with any cheap clichés.
Scottish Director Lynne Ramsay has made a transcendent fearless story of what it is to be fearless, whether it is based on some deep personal principles, or for money or for revenge or for all of the above. LET ME BE CLEAR Joaquin Phoenix is the only one who could have played this ‘Joe” with his composed aplomb emotions. And while this is not a slasher film at all it is also no ordinary “Joe” story either. Our man “Joe” is possessed with the focus and movement of a Jason Voorhees who while tormented still possesses lethal skills that are singularly focused and guided by core values probably given by his mother to protect the innocent and to punish the hell out of those who are not.
There is no romantic fairy tale ending to speak of in this film but it does have as good an ending as one could expect given what the story is all about. Mesmerizing from beginning to end Director Ramsey has created something that stays in your face with raw tension for all of its 1:30 minutes running time.
“You Were Never Really Here” is filled with layering of visual language ranging from melancholy, grimacing, coldness, intimacy, brutality and even poetry. If you should see it I am almost certain it is not something you will readily, easily or ever forget. This Joe won’t let you.