CUFF 18 Review: You Were Never Really Here

A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

Lynne Ramsay follows up the success of We Need to Talk About Kevin with the lean thriller You Were Never Really Here. Already being called “the Taxi Driver of this era”, the film sees Joaquin Phoenix playing Joe, a former veteran and FBI agent who battles with post traumatic stress disorder. Joe is a hired gun tasked with rescuing trafficked girls. This results in Joe having to get his hands dirty and often leads to him being on the run.

There isn’t much fat in this 90 minute film as the story is packed with character development and suffocating dread. Many of the shots are locked off and held on certain subjects to offer up the same contemplative feeling as Joe. Ramsay plays with sound effectively as erratic spikes in volume are present throughout, emphasizing the drastic fear and trauma Joe feels from past events.

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe is an antihero in the same vein as Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Both are tormented by their past and find themselves in the middle of rescuing underage girls from predators. Both Joe and Bickle have combat experience which is shown as they gruesomely fend off any opponents. With Joe we’re able to get more detail into who he is and why he does this dangerous job for a living. Though Joe is a brute force to be reckoned with, Phoenix is able to show a vulnerable side of the character that helps connect the audience. Phoenix commands the attention of the viewer as we follow him down this rabbit hole of tragic events.

You Were Never Really Here can be an exhausting experience as much of the film is dour with little levity to be found. For fans of crime thrillers that shouldn’t impact the experience as the film is full of gripping moments. Jonny Greenwood’s score mixes string and synth seamlessly as it keeps the viewers pulse pounding and on edge throughout. Ramsay’s newest is a masterclass in filmmaking and a piece of art that will be recognized for years to come.

Rating: 9/10

Joaquin Phoenix and Ekaterina Samsonov in You Were Never Really Here (2017)

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