By Liz Lopez
The Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsay (2011’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”), returns to screens with her fourth feature film, “You Were Never Really Here,” a thrilling, dark and violent hit man story not so focused on the action the protagonist takes, but the man who makes a living as a contract killer. Ramsay wrote the adapted screenplay from Jonathan Ames’ 2013 novel of the same title, one that I have not yet read. Ames’ fiction book is noted to not be very long, with Google Books referring to it as a “novella.” Ramsay has expanded on parts of the story about Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former FBI agent and war veteran, who we learn by flashbacks in the film about how broken a human he is and has been since he suffered childhood abuse. To date, he contemplates suicide. Then, there is also vengeance. Phoenix is the perfectly cast actor to show what he feels, rather than spend much dialogue describing it.
It does not take long from the beginning of the film to see Joe in one of his continual suicide attempts. To see him, one might assume he is a homeless man because of how he dresses; the beard and not much interaction with others in his surroundings. To the viewer’s surprise, he lives in his childhood house in Queens with his elderly, almost senile mother (Judith Roberts) and provides a type of frail elderly caregiver duties. Phoenix’s charm and gentleness comes through in the scenes as a dutiful son and creates some of the best scenes. He is a totally different person when he is around her and the difference appears that much sharper on the screen when he leaves the home to develop and fulfill his contract work. The unspoken emotions flood back to Joe’s face, as the memories of trauma and abuse return and ignite him with fury as he sets out to hunt.
Aside from Ramsay’s award winning screenplay and direction, Tom Townend’s cinematography captures each scene with the perfect lighting (daytime or night) and close up shots of the actor’s expressive faces. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides a score to accompany the scenes with so much depth.
At the core of this story, Joe’s liaison for contracts provides one from high-ranking New York Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), who wants help to search for his missing 13-year-old daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). Joe discovers her in a Manhattan brothel and the ring leaders provide a service for pedophiles. Alone, Joe invades the headquarters as seen from multiple security cameras, accompanied by music from this score, creatively edited by Joe Bini. I won’t say more.
This gripping piece of cinema is a mixed bag of emotions and gore that you won’t soon forget.
The film is rated R with a run time of one hour and 30 minutes. The film arrives in Austin theaters on Friday, April 13th.
Source: Amazon Studios