You Were Never Really Here: Film Review

Lynne Ramsay‘s You Were Never Really Here was not at all what I expecting. I went in thinking it would be some action-packed hitman thriller, but it is far more slow-burning and ambiguous so it’s not going to please everyone.

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. It seems like a simple extraction 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 is really convincing.

My main issue was how slow it was. It is violent and there are moments of action, but these are few and far between so action fans may be disappointed. It also very vague throughout so it is hard to get a full picture of the conspiracy Joe has got caught up in. There are very little explanations all around – everything is just hinted at and we have to grasp at each nugget of information. 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 other instalments in the hitman genre. I didn’t actively enjoy it, but I could appreciate the high standard of filmmaking and the performances.

In cinemas Friday 9th March 

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