You Were Never Really Here Review

Atlanta Film Festival Review: You Were Never Really Here

Score: A-

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, John Doman, Ekaterina Samsonov

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rated: R

Extremely violent and incredibly stylish, You Were Never Really Here is another zig-zag for both a writer-director and star who have never adhered to the rules.

Based on a novella by Bored to Death creator Jonathan Ames, this is an almost deadly serious thriller. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a mentally unstable veteran who spends his days taking care of his elderly mother and his nights hunting down sex traffickers and extracting vengeance with a ball-peen hammer. When he's asked to rescue a state senator's runaway daughter, he accepts, but finds himself double-crossed. Left for dead and with more questions than answers, this mission becomes personal.

There are of course a lot of similarities between this and Taxi Driver. But they're two very different beasts. You Were Never Really Here teases a tragic backstory that didn't begin when Joe was stationed overseas, but stretches all the way back to his childhood, when he'd have to hide from his abusive father during one of his violent binges.

But it's not completely grim. There are flashes of lightness. Before accepting his big mission, Joe polishes silver with his mom and they sing along to one of her favorite songs and she nags him about his love lives. Still, these are only brief reprieves. This is an often unrelentingly intense movie. Ramsay chooses to stage the set pieces differently each time. A raid on a brothel is mostly rendered through muffled security footage. A huge scuffle at a shady motel is just an intense, realistic fight to the death. A later invasion into a mansion only cuts to the bodies left in Joe's wake.

You Were Never Really Here works because it refuses to let up, and because Phoenix is so committed, not just to the fight scenes but also to the lost soul purging the world of evildoers through violence. It might be his best performance to date. A movie this bloody (and containing a certain scene in Joe's kitchen) might turn people off. But for those with strong stomachs, this is one of the best movies of the year.

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About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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