You Were Never Really Here review: Phoenix kills it ahead of 2019’s Joker

An amazing yet divisive film.

“You Were Never Really Here,” directed by Lynne Ramsay and based on the story by Jonathan Ames, is the story of an unreliable narrator. You don’t really know what events actually happen or are just fantasy. It isn’t all about action, and the plot is deceptively simple. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a war veteran and hitman who specializes in rescuing kidnapped children. The film’s plot revolves around his efforts to rescue Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), a big shot senator’s daughter.

To be clear, this film isn’t about Nina and rescuing her. It is about Joe, and his inner struggles and trauma.

If you weren’t already well aware of Phoenix’s status as one of the greatest actors, “You Were Never Really Here” has to change your mind. Joe feels incredibly authentic. He has moments of tenderness, but that is contrasted by moments of carnage that occur at the flip of a switch. I absolutely adored the character and the performance. A burly Phoenix doing “good guy” things was oddly endearing. You can have some qualities not as accepted by society, or ones with a hurtful stigma attached, but you can still do heroic deeds, if that is what you want to call it.

Though it looks like an action film, it doesn’t have much. However, when it does, the action is something special that certainly leaves an impact. The action can be compared to Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chainsaw” film, in that it isn’t all that graphic, but the implications and sheer intensity strike a nerve and most definitely serve their purpose.

One thing that is especially important to this film is the perfection of the score, composed by Jonny Greenwood, member of Radiohead. Scores usually aren’t a big focus in the majority of recent releases, but it is different in this film. The music has a significance that is vital to the story and the overall themes of the film. The music is can be calm or dissonant, and it’s always beautiful. It matches perfectly with the mood of the film and Joe himself.

After my first time seeing the film, it went right through me, leaving little impact. However, the second viewing hit just at the right time for me. Do not expect some conventional action movie. This film is more than that and is about much deeper things all tied together by the soundtrack and Phoenix’s visceral and authentic performance. However, “You Were Never Really Here” is not for everybody. Many audiences will find it incredibly boring or too short. Regardless, this film is most definitely one of the best ones to come out in the sea of mediocrity that is the movie industry, and I loved it.

This film also hypes me up for Phoenix’s “Joker” film. While one should be apprehensive, with the other DC films (Justice League, Suicide Squad) being almost always awful, the “Joker” movie looks like a light at the end of the tunnel. Phoenix seems to be an incredibly choosy performer when it comes to which projects he chooses, so I have a positive feeling that the film will turn out to be something special.