You Were Never Really Here, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, is at times a quietly tense, brutal film, and other times an explosively intense experience. I was held in place by this film, which totally consumed by attention and my intrigue. It’s dark look at the world was both alluring and distressing, and at its core was a character who was expertly developed through the visual medium of film. I know it won’t be for everyone – there are hurdles that some audience goers won’t want to vault over – but for those that are interested, this is a film that will stay with you. Let’s jump into my review and explore what this film has to offer.
Joe – played by Joaquin Phoenix – has had a troubled life. He’s seen horrible things happen – things that will haunt him for the rest of his life – and he’s also done unspeakable things. Joe’s unique line of work sees him tracking down kidnapped children (who are being made to do horrendous things) and get them home safely. His methods are… violent. But after a job goes wrong, everyone he knows is at risk and he is the only person that can make it right.
Writer, director, Lynne Ramsey brings us into a dark, violent world full of the awfulness of humanity. There is an ever-present feeling that violence and anger could occur at any moment when watching this film. Joe is besieged by his memories. They haunt him and make him unstable. There were times where I wasn’t sure if he was the person I wanted to root for. I didn’t know who he might hurt and if they deserved it. I was scared of him. As you can imagine, that made for a very compelling lead character.
Joe is unconventional in his way of thinking and acting. At home, he cares for his elderly mother. You can see that there is a good heart in him… somewhere. But you also know that he is someone who isn’t afraid to hurt people. But those people he is hurting are bad. No, they’re evil. Those last few lines; those were things I was thinking when watching this film. I was at all times engaged with this film. Analysing the actions of Joe; trying to understand more about who he was and how he operated. At its core, You Were Never Really Here is a character film. We see the mundane day-to-day, as Joe goes about prepping his next job, dealing with people who frustrate him. But we also get glimpses into his psyche and the irreparable damage that has clearly been caused to it.
To watch him is fascinating, and full of such depth. I personally loved the handling of Joe as a character and how the film went about telling his story, because it didn’t do it like most conventional films do. Joe doesn’t sit there and tell someone his life story; he doesn’t narrate the difficult points from his past. We see flashes of traumatic moments. We watch as he struggles to contend with life around him. It’s through what the film visually shows us – not what it told to us – that we get to understand him better and begin to try to care about him. It is a way of filmmaking that I find to be so much more engaging and satisfying to experience. I don’t feel like a passenger; I feel like a participant.
And of course, the character of, Joe wouldn’t be as compelling without the fully committed work by Joaquin Phoenix. He is an actor who disappears into a role; letting it consume him until he becomes that person. There is a level of commitment from Joaquin Phoenix that makes it very easy to believe he is Joe and he is capable of doing the things he does. Though I don’t feel like I see Joaquin Phoenix in a lot of films (though I do appreciate an actor who is very deliberate and careful in the projects he chooses to act in), but whenever I do, I know I’m watching an actor who will give it his all and deliver a performance that will both delight and scare me. He is this film. All eyes are on him and his work and he never falters. He is Joe.
And the world that Joe lives and operates in is one that is on the seedier, more depraved side of life. Joe deals with people who deserve no mercy; who support and participate in acts that are unforgivable. In other films, Joe could easily find his way into being the antagonist. A person with good intentions, but his instability led him to do something bad. So being in his world and experiencing things through his eyes and his mindset is a very engrossing and also unnerving experience to be a part of.
Lynne Ramsey never shies away from it. She shows you everything – warts and all – in ways that has you locked in and along for the ride full of anger and pain. And one of the tools she utilises best, when surrounding you with an ever tense, unnerving atmosphere, is sound. The score screams throughout scenes (at times), heightening the intensity of situations, or communicating the mindset of Joe at that moment. It would make my stomach sink and my hands clench. It played its part brilliantly in making the already atmospheric film, all the more intense. But it would also interestingly be offset by a soundtrack that juxtaposed the entire film. Calm, foot tapping songs would play and it would inject a different feel into the film and it was best used when it was playing over a particularly violent scene, or a scene filled with a sense of dread; like something bad was coming.
It all comes together to create a film that forces its way into you and makes you know it’s there, and in my own weird way, I loved it. I’m fully aware that this isn’t a film for everyone. In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s a film that most people will like. You Were Never Really Here plays by its own rules. It moves at a very slow pace. It never overtly tells the audience anything; you are left to interpret everything for yourself. And it never goes in the direction you expect it too – don’t think it’s simple plot means that the outcome will be how you want/need it to be, because it won’t. For me, the things I just listed aren’t negatives. I really enjoyed this film, and I enjoyed it the more it went on. But I can’t say that it will be the same for you.
I am going to recommend, You Were Never Really Here. I liked the film and so I am happy to recommend it. But if what you’ve read in this review doesn’t make you interested in seeing it, then it’s probably not worth your time. I of course hope you see the film and enjoy it, but either way, thank you for checking out my review of it.
Let me know in the comments section down below what your thoughts on, You were Never Really Here are, and what you thought of my review of it. Feel free to follow my blog and also my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – that way you’ll always know when I post something new (or what silly thoughts I have on films). But I’ll bring things to a close now on this review by saying thank you to you for taking the time to read it, I truly do appreciate it.