Based on Jonathan Ames’ noirish 2013 novella, You Were Never Really Here charts the grim exploits of a New York contract killer named Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) who uncovers a paedophile ring while investigating the disappearance of a senator’s daughter, and takes justice into his own hands while battling PTSD. It might sound like the premise of a recent Liam Neeson schlocker, but in the hands of Scottish auteur Lynne Ramsay, this lurid tale proves an unshakeable foundation for a confounding, remarkable revisionist thriller. The filmmaker has pared her narrative source as far down to the bone as possible: Joe’s harrowing backstory is relayed through jolting images, presented devoid of context. Despite an outrageous body count, violence is rarely directly depicted, with Ramsay preferring to linger instead on its quiet aftermath. And Phoenix delivers a typically enigmatic central performance, revealing a flicker of humanity only when goofing around at home with his elderly mother (Judith Roberts). The result is one of the most breathtakingly precise, formally radical genre films in recent memory.
You Were Never Really Here | Directed by Lynne Ramsay (UK, France, US 2017) with Joaquin Phoenix and Ekaterina Samsonov. Starts April 26.
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