You Were Never Really Here15¦ Blu-ray, DVD
With a career that includes over fifty credits, you can start to get a measure of what type of actor Joaquin Phoenix is. That’s not to say that he’s necessarily easy to define however, but there are clues there.
He doesn’t appear to be attracted to projects that are guaranteed hits for example. As yet he hasn’t appeared on the Marvel juggernaut (and there’s no denying he’d make a terrific villain), nor Disney for that matter.
What does seem to catch his eye however, is a character not only worth playing but also watching. There’s got to be something he can hang his hat on, make his own, and by golly he does that here in this mesmerising feature.
In his own words (of which he uses few), Joe (Phoenix) is a gun for hire. One with a difference though, as not many guns for hire live at home with their mom (Judith Roberts), looking after them.
Joe is scarred – both physically and mentally – from his unhappy childhood and his past in the military and FBI. So much so that to this day, his past won’t let go of him, as he’s frequently bombarded with disturbing flashbacks.
He has a handler, McCleary (John Doman), who gives him all his jobs. His latest is simple enough; a State Senator is struggling with his daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been running away a lot since her mother’s death. She’s been missing for the weekend, and wants Joe to track her down and bring her back.
It’s a simple enough request, but as Joe goes deeper into the case, he’s confronted by unexpected sinister behaviour that truly pushes his buttons.
Although the story has had similar outings – tired cop rescues young person from adversity, putting himself in unequivocal danger to do so – sometimes it’s how the story is told that can make the difference.
Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, despite being far from prolific behind the camera, having directed only four features – including this one – in nearly twenty years, has helped create a truly absorbing gem here.
Ramsay gets everything spot on here; from the clinical direction, sharp editing in both the film and sound departments, and sublime soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood that hits every note perfectly.
And then there’s the casting; Phoenix plays the part without being supported by the usual clichés. Instead he starts with a blank canvas, creating his own uniquely dark and troubled take on Joe, disregarding huge pages of dialogue in favour of a more physical approach to reflect where his character is at. At times it can be a tad uncomfortable to watch, but always compelling.
Although it did well at Cannes last year, picking up prizes for both Phoenix and Ramsay’s screenplay, the film struggled to find its audience in cinemas. Hopefully, with its Blu-ray/DVD release, word of mouth will encourage a larger audience, which it sorely deserves.
A modern classic in the making. Rarely do we use the words ‘must’ and ‘see’ together, but in the case of this film, they most definitely apply.