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You Were Never Really Here
5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Lynne Ramsay
prd Lynne Ramsay, Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson
with Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, Frank Pando, Vinicius Damasceno, Jason Babinsky, Jonathan Wilde, Kate Easton, Dante Pereira-Olson
release UK Oct.17 lff, US 23.Feb.18
17/UK Film4 1h25
You Were Never Really Here
This is a rescue: Phoenix and Samsonov

phoenix nivola ramsay
CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
You Were Never Really Here This singular thriller by Lynne Ramsay is like a slap across the face, a fresh approach to the genre. It's also unapologetically an arthouse film, demanding a lot from the audience as it presents a swirl of imagery and sound to finely define the central character without being obvious. Anchored by a burly-bear performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it's definitely not an easy film, but it isn't easy to shake.

In New York, freelance heavy Joe (Phoenix) is hired to inflict some pain on whoever kidnapped Nina (Samsonov), the teen daughter of a recently widowed state senator (Manette). When he's not working, Joe lives with his cantankerous mother (Roberts) and hangs out with his handler McCleary (Doman). But this job isn't going as expected, perhaps because there are larger forces at work here. And the violence is triggering Joe's memories both from his military service and his rough childhood.

Ramsay puts us into Joe's head to evoke powerful emotions. Thomas Townend's beautiful photography plays with light, colour, reflections and shadows to weave flashbacks into the main action without ever quite coming into focus. Audiences who want the full story might be annoyed by this approach, which is immersive and demanding. Glimpses of a child shot in the desert or a boy cowering from his father add tension to the main story, which has obvious parallels to Taxi Driver yet veers off in its own directions.

Phoenix nicely underplays Joe as a reticent man who has clearly seen a lot. With his woolly beard and scarred torso, he's a gentle hulk trying to remain invisible as he patiently cares for his mother. He also takes his work seriously, most notably as he quietly and efficiently storms a vile brothel to rescue Nina. There is blood everywhere Joe goes, and he's not quite sure if it was there when he got there, or if he has killed again.

Ramsay's approach lets the supporting cast fade into the background. These are people with their own issues who tangentially cross paths with Joe. And as he finds himself in the middle of a bigger conspiracy, there's a sense that he has caused this, when obviously he hasn't. In addition to the fine acting, direction and camerawork, Joe Bini's moody editing, Jonny Greenwood's visceral score and especially Paul Davies' fiercely clever sound design are expertly deployed to create an almost overwhelming atmosphere that doesn't outstay its welcome. A real stunner.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Oct.17 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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