Tuesday, April 17, 2018

[Review] You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix gives a tremendous lead performance as a ruthless outsider in this grimy crime-drama of violence, revenge, and disenfranchisement.

At the beginning of You Were Never Really Here, we meet a mysterious, hooded figure lurking around alleyways -- this is Joe, a grizzled Gulf War veteran who suffers from PTSD. He now works as a hired gun with a brutal reputation. And his main task in this film is to track down and rescue the missing 13-year-old daughter of a New York City senator, and make the captors pay... big time.

From the get-go, it's clear that Joe is a man on a mission, and what ensues is a methodical sludge through city streets and dirty underworlds where he spends a lot of the duration essentially beating the living crap out of people. With its narrative of voyeurism and vengeance, the film is highly reminiscent of Taxi Driver. In fact, there are a few scenes that feel like direct homages to the Martin Scorsese classic. And speaking of driving (there's a lot of that going on here), the film's Jonny Greenwood-composed musical score reminded me a lot of 2011's Drive with its throbbing and overriding synths. This film isn't overly derivative though, especially because the plot takes some really crazy turns along the way. And in addition to being very crisply shot, the film also has a lot of stylized touches -- like disturbing, fever dreamy flashbacks and eerie bouts of Joe heavily breathing with plastic bags over his head. They're truly images of horror.

Writer-directer Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) makes this tragic story walk the line between reality and hallucination. And while it doesn't move at a breakneck speed (a couple of necks might be broken, though), You Were Never Really Here is still one hell of a ride -- on visceral and emotional levels. And it's a fittingly harsh vehicle for Phoenix's gritty talents. Hammer away, Joaquin.

( 8/10 )

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