AMAZON STUDIOS (2018)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Lynne Ramsay doesn’t take the easy path.
Famed for her inimitable bleak directorial style, she returns after a long hiatus with You Were Never Really Here – a hard, tough and, yes, bleak mystery thriller. Adapted from Jonathan Ames’s novel, the movie follows embittered war veteran Joe (Phoenix), a man struggling with his dire past and who makes a living rescuing kidnapped girls from sex traffickers. His next mission is to extract a gubernatorial candidate’s daughter, Nina (Samsonov) from the clutches of an evil paedophilia ring – using any means necessary. Sounds simple enough? Well, it never usually is, is it?
If you’re thinking the movie doesn’t exactly sound like a hoot, you’d be correct. There’s little joy or light to be found within the brisk ninety-minute-runtime as (the superb) Joaquin Phoenix flits between suicide attempts, creeping through paedophile parlours and savagely murdering anyone is his way. That’s pretty much what you get here, with some artistic flashes thrown in and regular blasts of Rosie and the Originals Angel Baby too for good measure. Phoenix is the focal point of the entire movie, conveying more with his expressions than any dialogue, but he alone cannot save a movie with a limping narrative and whilst the runtime is indeed snappy, it stills feels like a long time from start to finish. It’s OK, thankfully it’s not Taken or anything similar, but it’s also not going to be troubling my ‘Best Of’ lists this year...or any.
Phoenix aside, only Ekaterina Samsonov and Judith Roberts receive any real attention. Roberts, in particular, is very good as Joe’s elderly mother whereas Samsonov merely wore a blank expression and counted down numbers – she didn’t do anything wrong, but it would’ve been harder to have done so. Phoenix’s carved, haunted face takes centre stage here, along with his unkempt, straggly facial fuzz – he looks like a man who’s been through Hell since day one and there’s no denying his performance is dripping with power and emotion. He’s an isolated man, his only relationship of note is with his mother, otherwise, he’s a soulless, dead-eyed killing machine.
There’s a scuzzy filter that permeates every scene, everything looks grungy and grimy and Ramsay really captures this aesthetic well. It’s worth mentioning again that nothing in this movie carries any levity, even Joe’s relationship with his mother – that’s just slightly less gloomy – and the visuals do a great job of highlighting this. So too does Jonny Greenwood’s distressing score, from lingering sound beds to screeching electronica, the music in the movie only furthers the depressing feeling that Ramsay injects throughout.
You Were Never Really Here is raw, brutal and stark. That, however, doesn’t make it a great movie and unfortunately the lack of compelling story and unrelenting misery ensures the movie never really gets out of second gear. There’s a lot going on visually, but a strong story was never really here, either. Satisfying if you’re after something slow and miserable, otherwise, there’s not much to gain from this movie except for a marvellous Joaquin Phoenix performance.
April 9th 2018