The dramas of Glasgow-born filmmaker Lynne Ramsay always have something special in addition to its rawness. So far, her short filmography comprehends four features, equal parts heavy and memorable, with the prevailing themes of youth, misfit, family, guilt, and grief. Even if her filmmaking skills and idiosyncratic style were pulsating with life in Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, her first two works, it was with the disturbing We Need To Talk About Kevin that she earned a massive recognition. Now, she returns in big with You Were Never Really Here, a sunless thriller that exquisitely blends corrosive tension and morbid humor to create gripping scenes of alienation and redemption.
“Heavily traumatized by an abusive father and a merciless military service… is very reliable when it comes to ‘wipe out’ a man.”
Ms. Ramsay, who wrote the script based on the short story of the same name by Jonathan Ames, summoned Joaquin Phoenix, who, in top form, impersonates an enigmatic, violent, and lethal hitman whose favorite weapon is no pistol nor knife but a ball-peen hammer. Heavily traumatized by an abusive father and a merciless military service, the bearded Joe is very reliable when it comes to ‘wipe out’ a man. After each job, he always goes back to his elderly mother (Judith Roberts), with whom he lives in New York City.
In a new assignment, he vouches to free Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the teenage daughter of an important NY Senator, who was abducted to work in a dirty sex business in which major politicians are involved. The operation is dangerous and Joe is perfectly aware it can cost him friends and family, however, he’s not a give-up type guy. With some madness in his eyes and facing each setback with a disarming calmness, the tenacious hitman finds in Nina the force he needs to accomplish the mission and inflict the deserved punishment on the child abusers.
“…tones of a neo-noir but ultimately glows with hope in the end.”
Immersive and intriguing, the film develops with the tones of a neo-noir but ultimately glows with hope in the end. Even painful when imagined, the violence was never too explicit or extremist, making this revenge tale much more accessible than the intense shockers Blue Ruin and Cold in July, which could easily upset your stomach. At least, the clouded Joe fights for some justice.
Even eschewing plot excesses, Ramsay wouldn’t be so successful without the arresting cinematography by Tom Townend, the brilliant score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and the unblemished editing by Joe Bini. They worked well together so that the packaging could look great while thrillingly grim moods were captured through a lens darkly. On another plan, Phoenix makes you enjoy every moment of his sinister role with a quiet assurance.
You Were Never Really Here (2018) Written and Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman.
8 out of 10