You Were Never Really Here

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Lynne Ramsay takes her time to make her dark features. Ratcatcher was 1999, Morvern Callar 2002, We Need to Talk About Kevin 2011, and now You Were Never Really Here. She keeps them moody, creepy and full of dramatic elision: there’s a whole story there, but that doesn’t mean you get to see all of it. You get what you get and you need to fill in the blanks.

Her latest, which evokes violent exploitation flicks such as Ms. 45, Death Wish, The Brave One and Drive, but also decidedly wearing art-house bona fides, offers plenty in the way of structured ambiguity, so much so that I’m afraid its most appealing as a deconstruction of Ramsay’s own authorial voice; if you’re really into a filmmaker trying things out (I am but your mileage my vary) then this may be your sort of thing. 

Joaquin Phoenix, wearing his Jesus hair and beard from Mary Magdalene, which he shot back-to-back with this one, is typically hefty, magnetic and troubled as Joe, a violent New York fixer who rescues kids from nasty men. He’s full of trauma, and his backstory – which accounts for his profession, both in skill-set and psychology – accounts for the prime set of narrative mysteries, although his current assignment is no picnic for the plot-picker either. This is all highly deliberate, for Joe’s brain is sliced, skewered and burned, and he’s not necessarily sure what’s going on either.

I enjoyed myself because of Phoenix, exceptional cinematography (Tom Townend), superb music by Jonny Greenwood, and Ramsay’s undeniable style. The story itself is nothing special or new, and I don’t think it really has anything to say. At eighty-nine minutes, it’s a fair use of your time. Ten minutes more, it may have been an unacceptable indulgence.

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