You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay, based on the book by Johnathan Ames
Featuring: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, Vinicius Damasceno, Frank Pando
Joe a big man is damaged from his past, a fractured veteran who had an abusive father and family life, he looks after his elderly mother and works tracking down missing and kidnapped children beyond the law. With skills he learned in his military life he uses extreme and excessive violence effectively. When the daughter of Senator goes missing Joe is co-opted in and once the violence starts it increases and increases as Joe is drawn into a conspiracy that goes to the very top of the political tree but can Joe unentangle himself from the spiralling insanity but somehow save Nina the 13-year-old girl at the centre of the malestrom and find some redemption.
Certainly this is Taxi Driver for the 21st century but with director Lynne Ramsey’s distinctive stamp all over it. We stil see wet, seedy, dark locations as Joe traverses the underbelly of society but this is juxatobpose by bright, clear, colours and well-lit scenes. Joe is multilayered and fair from being portrayed as a somewhat likeable pyscho or even unlikealbe one he is shown, and amazingly acted by Phoenix, as a basically normal man with huge flaws. He has a disasterious past that bubbles to the surface from time to time, he is horrifyingly violent but only in when the circumstance arises, other than that he’s a somewhat scruffy, beardy bloke, you might pass on the street.
Sure the film is slow past with plenty of shots of Joe ‘thinking’ or wandering about, the flashbacks are cut-editted in, I liked this but I can see how others would get confused or irritated but let’s think about this. It’s slow-placed, a bit boring, so there aren’t enough flashy, explody, bang-bang-bang films out there for you? This is the opposite. You can drink this without scolding your lips.
The story is shockingly violent. Violence seams throughout the running time like some precious ore yet Ramsay very clearly says right from the beginning she’s not interested in the violence despite it being part of the life-blood of the film. In a lesser director’s hands I could have watching arterial spurting, brain splattering and hearing bone-crunching sounds alongside screeching and screaming. With Ramsay we see it remotely, in black and white through security cameras, or the aftermath, which is a bit gory, or it is entirely implied. I wish more film-makers did this, torture and gore porn have never been mine thing and worries me that so many people seem to get a kick out of it when at times it seems to he the only reason for the film – but I digress.
Joaquin Phoenix as Joe is centre and stage and fills the screen as a big bear of a man who seems on the outside normal although clearly troubled. all other roles and actors are bobbing in his wake. With this type of presence on the screen you need an actor with big shoulders to carry you and with the mercurical Phoenix, Ramsay got her man. Few other actors could have had the screen presence to carry this and the film would have been very different without him.
As a story You Were Never Really Here is actually as straight forward conspiracy that goes to the very top story with a loner tough-guy sorting it out but give it an actor and director and the top of the games, let them twist the plot and pacing the way they want it to go and you get something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
‘The man with the ball pane hammer’ will not be for everyone but if you give it a chance, maybe view it in the right frame of mind and perhaps watch it more than once you will see more than you first thought you did. It is good.
Finally like Taxi Driver is there a subtext to tell what is happening throughout the film – the title, the final scenes, well it should get some debate going but in the end you make your own mind up as you should with all good films.