You Were Never Really Here – Film Review

Lynne Ramsay is an out and out auteur.  Her latest effort You Were Never Really Here has been hyped for its major release since its success at festivals last year.  It’s about mysterious anti-hero Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as he attempts to rescue a senators daughter who has been captured by child sex traffickers in New York City.  Joe is tackling a tough past, and the weight of looking after his mother whilst he violently delves deeper into a dark, dark world.

Phoenix is one of the great actors working right now, and he is this film.  He swallows up this performance, and throws it up all over the table.  It’s heartbreaking, hopeless and uncomfortable to watch him battle his way through the villains of the film.  The villains being his abusive past, and his PTSD, not just the goons trying to kill him.  Every step of the movie he has to remind himself where he is and what he’s doing, as he gets lost in his head.  It’s a fantastic use of a protagonist, because he’s unpredictable.  This leads the whole movie to be loose cannon that feels like it could end at any second.  And when it does end your left wondering if you enjoyed the experience or not.

Ramsay is a phenomenal director because of these things.  With each choice of camera angle or edit she’s trying to unnerve you, and trip you up.  I’m not sure whether I liked all the choices she made.  For example the film is brutal, though often doesn’t show the explicit violence, which is really interesting.  I loved her trying new ways to tell this intense story, such as the CCTV shots, but at the same time my movie brain would have been excited to see all the action in full.  The way the narrative stops and starts is also interesting, like a car going up in gears then stalling and spurting oil all over the road.  There are changes of pace constantly, where you go from meandering intrigues to heart-pumping aggressiveness.  It’s less of a lightning paced thriller, and more of a film that interconnects its main characters movements with their emotions.  Everything Joe is thinking, or feeling is splashed onto the screen with jarring, though precise consequences.


It’s an unforgiving 90 minutes, with a remarkable Jonny Greenwood score behind it.  His work on Phantom Thread should have earned him a best score win at the Oscars, and his efforts here are equally as brilliant.  It’s a diverse soundtrack that expertly shifts the films message for each particular scene it’s playing over.  The friend I saw the film with said the music was the best bit, and I’d have to agree with him.  For all the sensory overload and agitated execution the music was at the foundations keeping it from falling apart.  Like Annihilation it’s still stuck in my mind, and sits in the category of hesitant fondness, which usually is an indicator of a classic film.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes definitely worth going to a smaller cinema to check it out.  Only 90 minutes!

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