You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here Review

by C. Palmer

***** 5 Stars

The idea of the unreliable narrator really works to the movie’s advantage as it deepens Joe’s character whilst also allowing for some brilliant visual moments.

Actors: Joaquin Phoenix

Synopsis: When a teenage girl goes missing, a jaded, brutal enforcer attempts a rescue mission. He uncovers corruption and abuse of power along his way.

You Were Never Really Here is an adaptation of a novella by Jonathan Ames. Directed by Lynne Ramsay, we follow the antiheroic life of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) – a troubled man whose daily pleasures include self-asphyxiation and clubbing people to death. This film, although intensely depressing and brutally honest, is a magnificent piece of film noir. It feels redundant to say this but Phoenix’s performance is masterful throughout, showing both strong, poorly-concealed emotions and complexity within Joe. Though his actions are heavily criminal, it’s hard not to support and sympathise with him. The narrative constantly hints towards this idea of childhood trauma but allows the viewer to fill in the gaps, making the viewing experience that much more personal.

Ramsay uses montage over dialogue frequently during the film, keeping exposition to a minimum. As someone who appreciates a good bit of visual storytelling, this was a definite strong point. We see shots joined together that tells us the what, why, who and when but only when necessary. If there is information missing, Ramsay makes it clear that this is intentional. However, You Were Never Really Here is not easily digestible. Because we are in the mind of Joe, some sequences are ambiguous as to whether they really happened or are just manipulations of reality through his mind. The idea of the unreliable narrator really works to the movie’s advantage as it deepens Joe’s character whilst also allowing for some brilliant visual moments. Furthermore, the theme of aperture is only reinforced in the ending, which opens up the door for multiple different readings.

Sound is used expressionistically to further milk all the emotion out of the viewer. Jonny Greenwood’s score is nothing short of beautifully haunting, being able to further our understanding of Joe’s psyche whilst also bringing more tension to scenes. From the matching of scenes through diegetic bangs to the ambient score, it seems that every decision made in the sound department pays off.

Though the violence is clunky at times, with some of the choreography leaving more to be desired, some of the best sequences are when Joe goes on a small rampage and hammers a few bad guys. The most notable of these is shown through CCTV footage and is a fantastic example of how Lynne Ramsay takes a scene and puts a little twist on it to make it her own. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this film and would recommend it in a heartbeat for someone looking for a true cinematic experience.

You Were Never Really Here is currently available on Netflix and was rated 15 by the BBFC.

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