You Were Never Really Here is the type of movie that reminds me why I love cinema; there’s a nature to this art form that allows the creator to show things in ways you could never imagine, and director Lynne Ramsay knows better than anyone that it’s important to show your audience things, not tell them. The film is visceral and challenging, using perspective, music, sound, and Hitchcockian tension to create a modern masterpiece that boasts the best performance of Joaquin Phoenix’s career.
Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a former serviceman struggling with PTSD who now serves as a hired gun to rescue children from child traffickers. When a state senator approaches him about rescuing his daughter, Joe’s world begins to crumble as he tries to do the right thing against insurmountable odds.
It was apparent from the opening scene that Ramsay has a perfect sense of style, feeling both elegant and cool, yet dark and visceral. The action peaks in it’s violence, but the intent of each violent scene is to only perpetrate the sense of dread that builds and builds and doesn’t let up until the end. There’s no release in the tension, and while a reference early on to Hitchcock’s Psycho may feel on the nose, there’s an air of dread and suspense that reminds you of that classic film.
While the jump scares, mostly seen in flashbacks, are terrifying and effective, Ramsay proves to be a master of sound, using a combination of idiosyncratic noises and a brilliant score from Johnny Greenwood to create a sense of uneasiness. It’s stark and haunting in it’s portrayal of loneliness, doubt, and fear, yet also beautiful, featuring an underwater meditation on life and death that ranks among the most gorgeously constructed works of filmmaking in the last few years.
It also helps that Joaquin Phoenix, who I truly believe is the greatest actor working today, is delivering a monumentally brilliant performance, bringing a rich sense of disparity to his disgruntled hired gun. Phoenix sells the humanity of the role, bringing out a sense of history in his scenes with his elderly mother, and is captivating in his methodical methods throughout the prospective changed of the movie. It’s a brilliant performance, and hopefully will garner serious awards buzz.
Ramsay wears her influences on her sleeve, and there are elements of many classics in here, from the contemplative nature of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the horrifying starkness of Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the shocking humanity of Fincher’s Seven, and the unrelenting dread of any film from Hitckcock’s library. It’s a brilliant, beautiful piece of raw cinema, a masterful treat for those who truly care about the art form. Grade: A+