In Hollywood's current weather, action films the likes of Taken and John Wick are a dime a dozen. On the surface, it's easy to mistake Lynne Ramsay's latest for another one of these. But it's so much more.


Channelling its inner-Taxi Driver more so than its Wick, You Were Never Really Here is these aforementioned "man on a mission" actioners with more arthouse sensibilities about it; this is one that is more man than mission, not too concerned with the antics of the criminals but, instead, focused on letting its audience peer into the crushed soul of a broken man and watching his demons spill out through his relentless nature and palpable rage. Our man in question is war-veteran and hammer-wielding hitman Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), who rescues young girls from sex traffickers and is notorious for the brutality he brings upon these criminals. However, when one of these rescues goes awry, things begin to go askew for Joe's already crumbling life.

Joe's backstory is hazily pencilled in through vignettes, as Ramsay lightly fills in some of the blanks but leaves most of the dots for the audience to connect themselves; for the most part, our protagonist remains a morally dubious blur - he is physically scarred and mentally tormented, intermittent flashes of his violent imagination and torn psyche inter-spliced throughout the proceedings make this much evident, but the definitive reasons are muddied. We're aware that he was abused as a child, which perhaps had a hand in this, as well as his time in the line of duty, but Ramsay is careful not to bog her film down with too much exposition. Joe remains so captivating because he is such a mystery.
You Were Never Really Here is thick with grief and ambiguity; Ramsay offers us an uncompromising, harrowing look into a man ravaged by his past, prompting a catalogue of destructive behaviour and tendencies that he unleashes upon those that echo his childhood - people that bring pain to other children and families. Despite remaining so closed-off, he's a riveting character to watch; the choice to keep the violence limited and the focus on the emotional torment is one that keeps YWNRH feeling fresh and visceral. This is, through and through, a character study and the nature of this character and the world and circumstances surrounding him make this such a provocative and mesmerising affair. Of course, saying that Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic in the role is like saying water is wet. It's a given. But the actor is quietly discomforting to watch; he disappears into the character, embodying Joe's emotionally vacant shell through a very visual, subtle performance and an intimidating presence. His deep-rooted anguish and torment is evident; we can feel his pain through his performance and Phoenix is transfixing to watch here. It's work delivered with utter conviction, making us empathise with this character one second but also wholly believe he can demolish people twice his size the next.

There's perhaps an argument to be made that Martin Scorsese covered this material back in 1976 with Taxi Driver - the two films are awfully similar in their nature - and Joe's nightmarish visions can perhaps become a little too jarring and convoluted here and there when realised on-screen. But these are small issues, and the only real complaints I have with the film. Otherwise, Lynne Ramsay is four for four now, proving, once again, that she is one of the most talented living and breathing filmmakers out there - not to mention, one of the most daring. You Were Never Really Here is the landmark of her career thus far; it's esoteric in its nature, going to some truly dark depths. But it's a beautiful triumph. Ramsay's visual storytelling is masterful; the film is gorgeously shot, and permeated by yet another gorgeous score from the sublime genius of Jonny Greenwood - personally, my favourite of his to date. YWNRH is brutal and visceral, a heightened display of vocation from a tour-de-force trio of unstoppable talent: Phoenix, Ramsay, and Greenwood. Yet, the film remains hauntingly mesmerising - the kind of quietly disquieting and powerful work that will linger with you for some time after the credits have rolled.


The tour-de-force trio of Joaquin Phoenix, Jonny Greenwood, and Lynne Ramsay keep You Were Never Really Here crackling with veritable punch. This is a disquieting study of torment and character and one of the most stirring, haunting and beautiful films you'll see all year. 

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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