You Were Never Really Here (2018)
You Were Never Really Here (2018)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Release Date: April 6th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Lynne Ramsay Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Frank Pando, John Doman, Alex Manette, Ekaterina Samsonov, Scott Price, Alessandro Nivola




rizzled, rugged Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) gathers together some decidedly suspect items, including duct tape, zip ties, a bloody hammer, and a loaded gun, before exiting a hotel. He avoids the front entrance, due to flashing police car lights, opting instead for the back alley – where he’s attacked by an unseen assailant. But Joe is a formidable guy, making quick work of the thug. At the airport, he makes a phone call, leaving the message, “It’s done,” before quickly departing. That evening, he returns to his apartment, where his elderly mother (Judith Roberts) resides, largely dependent on her son to help her move about and to clean up after her.

Joe has significant emotional scars to match the sizable, literal ones that litter his body; he’s plagued by visions, some of which are daydreams, others of which are horrific nightmares (as well as mergers of the two, recalling haunting memories from an abusive childhood). And he thinks constantly of death and suicide. When Joe visits a local grocery store to collect an envelope full of hundred-dollar bills from Angel (Frank Pando), it becomes clearer that he’s an assassin for hire. Or, more specifically, he takes on missions outside the law, retrieving missing persons and dealing with dangerous criminals when official channels aren’t sufficient. Joe’s latest assignment involves State Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), whose teenage daughter Nina (Ekatarina Samsonov) frequently runs away from home. This time, however, he’s offering $50,000 in cash not only to recover her, but also to inflict damage upon the perpetrators who may have kidnapped her for use in a prostitution ring.

“I want you to hurt them.” Purchasing a new, signature ball-pein hammer, Joe begins the hunt, promising that a path of destruction will be carved through every antagonist in his way. The lone-wolf soldier-of-fortune on a rescue mission isn’t an original idea – though it’s most often used in action pictures, where unrealistic levels of derring-do and adventure overtake any semblance of realism. Here, the thrills can never really be described as larger-than-life characters engaging in heroic undertakings; this world is dark, gritty, brutal, and unforgiving – yet uncommonly absorbing.

In some of the most interesting moments, the violence takes place offscreen, with sound effects informing viewers of the specific commotions. At other times, security camera footage – cutting back and forth between odd angles and corpse-strewn hallways – documents the endeavors, stripping away the daredevilry in favor of the more morbidly down-to-earth abominations of sex-trafficking. And, in even more startling sequences, sounds are removed altogether, with background music or TV news reports filling in. With this attention to the terrifying side of mercenary work rather than gung-ho action, the film draws greater parallels to “Man on Fire” and “Edge of Darkness” than “John Wick” or the many episodes of Rambo. One of its main points of singularity, however, is its focus on the aftermath of mayhem rather than the bloodletting as it’s being exacted.

As Joe’s seemingly straightforward job spirals wildly out of control, braving hordes of unexpected villains and leaving in its wake a pile of bodies, the anticipated, overly theatrical components of hired-killer action movies are all but extinguished. In their place is a practically poetic quality, complementing the extreme violence in increasingly artistic ways – from holding the hand of a dying murderer to submerging a body in a lake. In addition, Joe’s grip on reality appears to loosen, generating a series of hallucinatory showdowns and revelations that are spectacularly augmented by creative, irregular editing techniques – contributing to momentary confusion, further delusions, and a sensationally contrasting finale.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10