April 12, 2018

GENRE | What If 'You Were Never Really Here'?

"I hear you can be brutal."
Joaquin Phoenix Ekaterina Samsonov Lynne Ramsay | You Were Never Really Here

Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay really knows to evoke mood and emotion through tormented characters and setting. Enigmatic actor Joaquin Phoenix stars in the lean, stripped-down adaptation of author Jonathan Ames' blood-soaked novella, the acerbically titled You Were Never Really Here. It's a brutal portrait of the consequences of violence and vengeance anchored by almost hidden, singular ideas and Phoenix's stirringly raw performance.

Phoenix plays a soft-spoken combat veteran turned hired gun with severe PTSD, Joe, who spends his days rescuing abducted underaged girls from sex trafficking in New York City. Needless to say, it's an emotionally visceral film centred on his complex performance of very few words and bursts of violent actions—mostly off-screen. It's like an elliptically told episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit by way of Drive or Taxi Driver and told in cutaways.

We follow Phoenix's character for almost the entirety of the film's bare ninety-minute runtime as his latest mission quickly sets off a very dire set of events where interchangeable corrupt officials interfere in his rescue efforts. Child actor Ekaterina Samsonov serves as the young figure of innocence Joe must save and protect in a small but emotive performance suggestive a twisted sort of dark fairytale or fable structure.

Joaquin Phoenix Lynne Ramsay | You Were Never Really Here

Composer Johnny Greenwood's eerie score makes the haze of the unsettling story's unfolding all the more morose and contemplative. The restrained editing and sparse storytelling build a clear sense of mood to lift the minimalist performances that burst with lingering sadness.

Joe struggles to feel anything and Ramsay constructs the loose narrative structure to complement his fractured understanding of human nature twisting a detective story without much in the way of dialogue or obvious exposition. The somber way the film expresses the tragic nature of existence is so wryly haunting.

Ramsay and Phoenix somehow make You Were Never Really Here a beautiful, fragmented look at the redemptive quality of humanity even in the darkest of situations. Full of small moments of true pain, it's a fascinating film exploring the complexities of saviours told with absolute precision. It's a wrecking ball of an experience told through whispers and lullabies.

You Were Never Really Here opens in Vancouver on April 20th.

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