You Were Never Really Here: LFF Film Review

Lynne Ramsay‘s You Were Never Really Here is one of those movies which makes you question if you saw the same film as everyone else. It received a long standing ovation at Cannes and has basically been acclaimed by all the critics, but I came away reeling and thinking, “Was that it?” I was expecting much more.

Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, an ex-FBI agent and Gulf War veteran who is now working as a “gun for hire”. For his next job, he is assigned to recover Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the daughter of a senator, who has been kidnapped and taken to a brothel for underage girls. Seems like a simple job, but Joe soon learns that it isn’t and he is caught up in a bigger political conspiracy.

Phoenix won the Best Actor prize at Cannes and it’s not hard to see why, his performance is impressive – subtle, understated and very moving. The film isn’t really about the missions, but Joe and his tortured mind, which has been battling memories of abuse he suffered as a child. Through clever editing, we see small snippets of this abuse, which is enough for the audience to understand without giving us the full picture. Every day is a mental struggle for Joe and Phoenix has that stoicism and darkness about him that really convinces.

My main issue was how slow it was, something that is tough-going for a critic on their third back-to-back film of the day. I was expecting an easy and straight-forward hitman thriller, but this isn’t like that at all. It is violent and there are moments of action, but these are few and far between so action fans may be disappointed. It also just ends unexpectedly and I was left staring at the screen like “huh?” I didn’t expect that, but it left me reeling and thinking about it for ages.

This is a challenging and brutal thriller that is very different to normal instalments in the hitman genre. It is basically an arty and less crowd-pleasing version of Taken (if I’m being reductive!) I didn’t really like it, but I can appreciate the high standard of filmmaking and the performances.

Screening as part of the 61st BFI London Film Festival. A cinema release has not been scheduled yet.

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