YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Produced by: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson, Lynne Ramsay Writer: Lynne Ramsay (Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Music by: Jonny Greenwood
Editor: Joe Bini
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
Lynne Ramsay’s latest film will not be for everyone; be warned it has some very disturbing sequences relating to abuse and violence. The pitch is simple and accessible: a hired gun hunts down a kidnapped girl. But the delivery is twisted, violent, fragmented, mesmerising and thoroughly hellish. The story beats along the same drum as the action thriller Taken (2009), but unlike Liam Neeson, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe has a slightly different set of skills to work with. They are both ex-military but Joe’s past actions haunt him to the point of near-suicide and his preferred weapon is a trusty hammer from the local home improvement store.
It was fascinating seeing Lynne Ramsay taking on a narrative so full of such familiar genre tropes. This story covers aspects such as: kidnapped children; nefarious US government corruption; paedophile rings run by the rich; post-traumatic stress disorder; and the lone wolf ‘soldier’ seeking redemption. Indeed, the film crossed over into territory covered by the likes of: Man on Fire (2004), Hardcore (1979), and the aforementioned Taken trilogy. However, through Ramsay’s skewed and compelling direction I Was Never Really Here is an altogether different beast; spiritually evoking the seminal Schrader scribed story of Taxi Driver (1976). Similarly, I Was Never Really There is an existential anti-thriller which asphyxiates the audience with: close-ups; canted frames; blurred and obscured shots; oblique angles; claustrophobic urban locations; jolting violence; blinding light; eerie shadows; and jumpy cutting which shreds the nerves throughout.
The fragmented narrative delivery adds further to the viewer’s creeping tension and developing sense of dread. The character of Joe is essentially in a psychological nightmare, haunted by several events from his past; during his childhood and while in the military and FBI service. Ramsay and her editor Joe Bini cut and chop us into the past before slamming us back to the present abruptly. The effect is to place us in Joe’s disturbed mind-set, creating a psychologically unhinged trip into the heart of darkness. It takes a special filmmaker to manufacture such feelings via the editing dialectic; and I hadn’t felt such nervousness in the cinema since experiencing Dunkirk (2017).
Ramsay is ably supported in her vision by an incredibly eerie soundtrack from the genius that is Jonny Greenwood. His score scratches under one’s skin like a junkie curse while somehow managing to cling to melody too. Of course, the film would not be so compelling if it was not for Joaquin Phoenix’ battered, bearded bear of a performance. He invokes the naked pain and desperation of the character in his huge frame and determined shark eyes. When faced with an enemy he is a brutal killer but altogether gentler and, dare I say it, fun, while looking after his beloved mother. Overall, this is a nihilistic, gory, scary, unsettling and stunning work of cinema; and while it treads a familiar narrative road it’s presented with such dark energy and meticulous care one cannot fail to be moved.