Led by a career-best performance from actor Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here shows that writer/director Lynne Ramsay is certainly here without a doubt.
The performance from Phoenix is one that is so mesmerizing and captivating. The performance is truly unforgettable. His character has a remarkable back story. A former US soldier, he became an FBI agent on a sex-trafficking task force before later becoming a man who devotes all of his time to rescuing kidnapped young women. It’s no easy feat as Joe is dealing with some psychological issues of his own. While most people would just go in and do the job, Joe goes for the violent angle. The flashbacks, for what its worth, only show just how troubled Joe really is between his PTSD from being in the military and living with an abusive father.
After a job in Cincinnati, Joe is asked to return Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the daughter of Senator Albert Votto (Alex Mannette) running for Lt. Governor. At the same time, he’s taking care of his mother (Judith Roberts), who is also suffering from dementia. When bad guys start to go after his inner circle, Joe finds himself on a path towards vengeance all while trying to find Nina.
The film may have been shot in New York City. That being said, it doesn’t feel like the same NYC always being seen on screen. Give credit to production designer Tim Grimes for finding locations not seen on film before. Cinematographer Tom Townend brings a feeling of being trapped in a small space in the way the film is shot. It’s the first of Ramsay’s films that have been captured on digital.
In composing the score, Jonny Greenwood was able to find a sound that fit the film’s personality. It’s one that’s very stringy and full of electric guitars.
Bringing Ramsay’s adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ noir novella to life is no easy task. Tasked with bringing Joe to life, Phoenix delivers what very well may be his career-best performance to date. There’s nobody else that could play Joe and bring what Phoenix does to the role. Seriously. The small things really add up in this perfomance. There’s something about his performance here that’s so compelling in watching this savior of young women. Ramsay essentially takes a genre film and truly makes it her own. In doing so, her status as a filmmaker is also cemented.
The fourth feature by director Lynne Ramsay, You Were Never Really Here works because of a strong script, an awesome score, and acting performances.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Lynne Ramsay
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, and Judith Roberts