You Were Never Really Here (rated MA) has been making appearances at film festivals around the world and even received a seven-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also one the most popular films at the recent Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Now it’s finally getting a proper theatrical release in Australia.
Joaquin Phoenix is cast as Joe, a deeply traumatised veteran who is haunted by his childhood and previous work at the FBI. His new job involves tracking down missing little girls for a living and using brutal approach to succeed. Things start to unravel as he is asked to find and rescue the daughter of a senator.
You Were Never Really Here is not a feel-good story, it depicts abuse, suicide, murder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), paedophilia, and the ending is not neatly tied up in a pretty bow to please audiences. With that being said, the film’s director Lynne Ramsay, takes care in portraying each disturbing theme in a sensitive manner without turning it gratuitous, especially scenes involving little girls. She makes use of the “show, don’t tell” method which is wonderfully effective as it doesn’t spoon-feed audience members of what they should see on screen and what to believe. It plays on our imaginations with its open-ended scenes and questions.
Ramsay keeps the dark and unsettling tone throughout its running time with the equally bleak and ominous cinematography complementing the mood. It also serves as a symbol of all the troubling thoughts each character is battling with, including the villains and little girls. It’s not until the end of the movie where there is a scene in proper daylight.
There have been a lot of comments made of the brutality in the film, while there are a number of deaths on screen, once again it is not depicted in an unwarranted manner unless you feel sorry for paedophiles. There are some scenes which involve more blood than others but those do not occur on a regular basis. I do have to point out that a number of people walked out at the premiere due to the violence depicted in the movie, however, if you know the nature of the story, the aggression should not come as a surprise.
Joaquin Phoenix has received a lot of praise for his portrayal of Joe and it is absolutely deserved. Joe is a man of few words, so Phoenix had to heavily rely on displaying believable emotions through body language and facial expressions – which is not easy to achieve when your character is a former FBI agent suffering from PTSD and suicidal thoughts while also killing paedophiles.
A lot can be said of this film, but the best way to describe it is calling it an exquisitely intense story told through a realistic and beautifully dark point of view(s). You Were Never Really Here will have you thinking about it long after the credits have ended. (7.5/10)
You Were Never Really Here will be in selected cinemas from the 6th of September.