You Were Never Really Here (2017) ***

March 6th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Lynne Ramsay | Writer: Jonathan Ames| Lynne Ramsay | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman | Thriller | 95min

New York is the setting of Lynne Ramsay’s claustrophobic psychodrama about a troubled soul who brings his abusive past to bear in his work as a hit man. Featuring a tortured performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it glimpses a world much darker and more deadly that the woozy snapshot we get here. Ramsay is more interested in probing the inner workings of her character’s mind than focusing on the sordid underworld of ‘private security’ and directs from a script adapted by Jonathan Ames from his original novel.

Phoenix plays Joe, a damaged Travis Bickle-like loner and former soldier who would have us believe there is a righteous place in the world for him that is hitherto undiscovered. But until that moment arrives he is tasked with rescuing a teenager whose wealthy father wants to avoid contact with the authorities. Teenager Nina (a fragile Ekaterina Samsonov) is the daughter of minor politician Votto (Alex Manette), a sidekick in Alessandro Nivola’s election campaign for senator, and has been lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Joe is tasked with getting the teen back to Votto, in a local hotel. But the scheme backfires when other criminal elements infiltrate the ring and the film descends into a hazy contemplation of Joe’s broken psyche that gradually melds with the ambiant violence of the botched release.

Ramsay’s effort to blend a crime thriller with claustrophobic character study is a brave one that feels much more nuanced and tuned-out than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but sadly lacks the resonance and gutsy sense of time and place. That said, it’s a well-crafted thriller with an auteurish, almost poetic feel that contrasts impressively with the stark stabs of savage violence that punctuate this tawdry twisted tale. MT


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