Review: “You Were Never Really Here” Is A Slow Burning Artsy Conundrum
“You Were Never Really Here”
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix’s Beard, A Little Girl, An Old Lady, Guys With Hammer Wounds
Directed By: Lynne Ramsay
“You Were Never Really Here” was both the title of the movie and a reference to missing plot points. Honestly, the plot was thin, a bit more fleshing out would have helped a lot. I’ll try to write this without any spoilers. If there’s any coming, I’ll say it ahead of time.
First things first: Director Lynne Ramsay takes a very heavy handed, artistic approach to the direction in this film. It plays well to the whole mood of the film, but sometimes it feels like it’s just showing off for no reason. We can only see Joaquin Phoenix gaze at a subway track like so many New Yorkers have before, fantasizing about the sweet release death brings us, before we want him to just do something. But when the artistic direction works, it works well. Ramsay is fantastic behind the camera here, for the most part.
So what is “You Were Never Really Here”? It’s an artsy, Taxi Driver/The Professional hybrid. Joaquin and his hobo cosplay costume play a hitman known for brutality and a lack of visibility (hence the film title). He is never seen or caught by anyone. He walks in, kills, leaves without a trace. Totally looks like he smells like piss & sour milk all the time, though. The film opens with him completing a job and murdering people with the contents of aisle 3 at your local hardware store before flying back home to NYC. Soon, we learn that he still lives at home with his mother. He’s like 40+ years old. Fucking murdery nerd! Anyway, she’s OLD old. Like, “how do you even go to the bathroom” old. Like absolutely has “pinochle Thursdays” with the ladies while Phoenix is off murderin’ folks kinda old. But she’s feisty. Joaquin loves her and cares for her no matter how much annoying old lady shit she does (which is a lot). It shows two sides of his character really well: Hitman with a tortured black soul who also has a heart of gold for his mother. I can’t honestly go much into what else happens without spoiling shit. He kills people with a hammer. Lots of people that you don’t care about enough to even hate as much as you should.
His big thing is that he is hired to kill sex criminals involving children. Usually, he specifically targets sex traffickers or rapists. We find out through quick, aggravating flashbacks that he is tortured by PTSD where innocent children were killed in front of him in the war. Also, he is depressed and tries to kill himself every day. He is hired by a politician to save his daughter and once the job is completed, they wait in the hotel for her dad. They find out on the news that the girls dad (who hired Joaquin) killed himself. Cops show up, kill the hotel clerk in front of him & steal the girl. As it turns out, the cops are all in on this. A cop tries killing Joaquin but he kills the cop instead and runs. Now they’re all trying to kill Joaquin, who is trying to save the girl, and they’ll do anything to find him, including killing anyone he is close to if they have to. Real fucking assholes, these guys.
Here’s the thing: The movie is frustrating for a couple reasons. It’s a 105 minute film with a 30 minute plot. It would have been a SICK short film. It’s also a jack off competition between Joaquin’s acting and Ramsays artsy ass vision. Both of them jack off to completion, but the ropes of climax they shoot on the audience are underwhelming and ultimately unsatisfying. They cum just fine while you’re left confused and wanting more. Also, Ramsay took a minimalist approach to the kill scenes and it was totally “murder scene blue balls”. Lots of far away shots, weird angles and scenes where something happens that you don’t see and it cuts to Joaquin walking away from what he just did. I have a sneaking suspicion this was a lower budget film that blew its financial load when they filmed on location in New York City.
The goods: Music/score was solid. Joaquin showed lots of emotional range. There definitely were some cool scenes as far as the directing goes. As a character study, it was very good. They paint the picture of Joaquin’s character very well. It was a character driven thriller and it did that very well.
It’s hard for me to say whether I recommend it or not. I wasn’t unhappy I saw it. It was just overhyped. If you’re looking for high action, it’s not for you. If you’re into character driven slow burns, it’s good for that. If you wanna see Joaquin Phoenix chew up scenery for 100 minutes, have at it! Phoenix acts his grizzled, emotional, probably unshaven balls off. But aside from that, it’s nothing to write home about.
3 out of 5 to be generous. Maybe closer to a 2.5.