You Were Never Really Here (2017)
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.
Fuck. Me. Can I start with that? There is no way I’m going to be able to capture everything this movie is but I will try to explain why I love it.
Joe is a former FBI agent and veteran, haunted by the ghosts of failed missions and the terrible things he’s seen (and done). His current line of work is to track down missing girls and return them home, using any means necessary.
When he’s not off on assignment he lives at home with his sick mother, who he looks after as best he can. There’s an easy chemistry between mother and son and although there’s obviously a lot of history between them, they muddle along well. The juxtaposition between gentle Joe at home and his uber-violent professional hit man is interesting to unpack.
“McCleary said you were brutal”
“…I can be.”
YWNRH focuses on Joe’s fragmented thought process and past trauma. He’s overcome with guilt, for the lives he wasn’t able to save and the mistakes he’s made. The memory of his own violent upbringing follows him and he fantasises about taking his own life, in increasingly inventive ways. He gets pretty close too but when he’s roped into a new job – to rescue a senator’s daughter from an underage sex ring – things get real again, real quick.
I came out of this film feeling all the things and not really having the words to express my appreciation. First off, it’s incredible to look at. Lynne Ramsey is one of my favourite directors and as far as I’m concerned, she delivers every time. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) is a firm favourite, a stunning and deeply powerful adaptation of Lionel Shriver‘s shocking novel – while Morvern Callar (2002) was brilliant in its simplicity.
Ramsey has an attention to detail that sets her apart and can conjure incredible performances from her talented leads. Tilda Swinton has never been better than in Kevin, likewise here, Phoenix is great. He brings a gentleness to Joe that makes him seem vulnerable and Jesus, is he. He’s broken – barely able to function in the world and it’s hard to watch.
It’s this vulnerability that works so well in contrast to his killing scenes – and the disconnect between Joe and the real world helps him get the job done. A few of the incredibly harsh murder scenes are reflected back to us via cracked mirror and CCTV footage, lending it a dreamy, fragmented vibe. It’s brutal but it doesn’t shove it in your face – and there’s a beauty to it too. During one scene, Joe bonds with a victim of his own hand and it’s both heart-warming and tragic.
I fancy JP in this so much, physically he’s a bear of a man – a former beefcake run a little to fat and it is soooo hot. He doesn’t have the most dialogue either and carries himself like a truly haunted soul. I’ve never seen him work the screen better, in fact I’ve never really liked him, so consider me a convert.
The film’s ending is really powerful and if I’m honest it’s left me flip-flopping back and forth on what it all means. It is left wide open to interpretation, baby – and I love that. I can’t wait to see what Lynne does next.