Rage, sadness and disturbing insinuations – You Were Never Really Here (London Film Festival Review)

There two things that’s been discovered from watching Lynne Ramsay’s latest cinematic offering, the first being that the director really hates Q&As. She made that clear when she introduced her film at the festival saying she didn’t want to answer any questions, that’s why she became a filmmaker, she wanted to let her film do the talking. The other is that, although there are several brutal scenes throughout the film, the shot that had the biggest audience reaction, mostly disgust, was when Joaquin Phoenix’s character hired gun Joe, removes a tooth from his bloodied mouth.

Adapted from Jonathan Ames novella of the same name, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hitman who favours a hammer as his tool of choice. He does his job and simply goes home to care for his elderly mother. When his contact tells him about a new job involving finding a politician’s missing daughter, the reward is something he can’t pass up even though he is suspicious. But when he finds the girl, he uncovers a deeper conspiracy that threatens his life and family.

The story about a lonely hitman, contracted to do others’ dirty work while caring for his elderly mother, doesn’t quite scream Jonathan Ames, creator of the HBO Comedy ‘Bored to Death’ and author of comedic essays. It is easier to see director and writer Lynne Ramsay’s mark of stylized violence and hard-hitting tone shine through. Ramsay’s technique of storytelling seems to evolve with each film, each revolving around a violent act but finding the affection somewhere within the harsh worlds she creates. Joaquin Phoenix who manages to keep the balance of a controlled hardened killer to the emotionally broken man who struggles with a past that isn’t fully explained brilliantly encapsulates the role of Joe.

The ongoing feeling that nothing is really explained continues throughout the film. This is a dark story that doesn’t fully explore the underworld it steps into or the characters that exist. In terms of the linear part of the film, the audience is given as much information as Joe knows, leaving the unexplained parts up to the audience to determine what happened or what is happening. The intrusive and abrupt flashbacks that Joe experiences is a secret he carries all to himself, a burden that it seems he has had with him since he was a childhood. Through the bouts of rage, sadness and disturbing insinuations, there is sense of urgency to save a childhood, which is why Joe feels as if he has to save this girl even after his own personal tragedy.

Just like a novella, the film packs a lot in and chooses to exclude facts and leaves everything else to the imagination, especially the last few scenes of the film that becomes slightly surreal. A beautifully brutal piece of cinema that is guaranteed to stay with you after the credits roll.

 

Dir: Lynne Ramsay

Prd: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson, Lynne Ramsay

Scr: Lynne Ramsay

Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

DoP: Thomas Townend

Music: Jonny Greenwood

Country: UK, USA, France

Running time: 85 mins