You Were Never Really Here is a phenomenal film from acclaimed director/writer Lynne Ramsey and based upon the novel by the creator of one of my favorite HBO shows, Bored to Death - Jonathan Ames. It’s slow, gritty, disturbing, and it completely utilizes the film’s short runtime to perfection.
I was blown away from the undeniable finesse of Ramsey’s directorial style. From beginning to end, the film quite literally bleeds style with its disturbing undertone and layers. The quiet atmosphere builds upon the brilliant performances in remarkable ways, exploring one man’s inner torture while he attempts to protect the people who remain true in his life. This film captures Ramsey’s clear passion for film and the source material from Ames, giving even more interest in exploring her previous acclaimed features.
The film follows ‘a traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, who tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s night unravels as he is overtaken by an uncovered conspiracy uncovered, leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening’. The film is mysterious, poetic and slowly paced, resembling a violent aftermath over the violence being displayed on screen. From scene to scene, it’s easy to understand the character’s motivations, while keeping lots of mystery for each new plot decision and surprising twist. Things happen but with powerful, poetic direction - Phoenix’s Joe is a mystery just as much as the conspiracy the film builds from nothing.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Joaquin Phoenix as Joe provides a brilliant performance to his mysterious role. The film offers very minimal exposition and backstory to the lead, but his motivations are swiftly left up to the viewers imagination. Ekaterina Samsonov plays the young girl that Joe is paid to rescue from an underage sex trafficking institution, and her quiet, mysterious characterization gives her a curious reasoning for her actions throughout the film. Elegant performances capture the expressive nature of the film itself and the disturbing violence representing the entire undertone of the film.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The film relies heavily on its impressive sound design and score. Uninterrupted silence is the key of this film, with almost every character being a quiet human being and letting violence do their talking. As most of the violence takes place off screen, the sound design needed to be highly capable of showing without anything being seen - until after the strokes of the hammer that Joe carries has been issued onto the victims. In some cases a gun, but for most cases a quiet thud, as the murdered victim hits the ground. The score is menacing and captivating all at the same time, keeping things simple while helping the emotions come out for our characters without any unnecessary dialogue.
The costume and character design for our political villains and our “hero” Joe really provides a personal look at the characters’ personality. Such as that Joe is a little unhinged but attempts to keep himself professional with his slightly casual appearance and his never smiling facial features. The blood effects are graphic but in a different way than most viewers will expect, having most of the chaos happening off screen, in a very stylistic manner by Lynne Ramsey. The hammer that Joe embraces as his primary weapon of choice due to an unfortunate childhood trauma drips with blood as murderous rage rushes through Joe’s body. Yet there are also times of crisis where a murder may have occurred with no visual confirmation besides Joe cleaning his hammer off with a cloth. The makeup displaying the harmful acts of violence is beautifully placed and never easy to see, as the makeup really grasps ahold of the violent encounters that have transpired in the past for our lead and for the people who get in his way.
I personally loved You Were Never Really Here, with it’s artistic telling of a troubled veteran who took on the position of killing for good. The lack of immediate violence on screen and the creative camera direction helps establish an excellent arthouse film from an acclaimed director that I haven’t had the pleasure of knowing previously. If asked to describe You Were Never Really Here in three words, they would have to be: Beautiful, Poetic, and Brutal.