Though far from greatness, You Were Never Really Here is nevertheless an interesting character study of a depressed man who works as a hired gun to help those in situations when the law can’t do so. It’s somewhat a disturbing affair, as apart from the subject matter’s bleakness, there’s also a few scenes of graphic violence interplayed. This isn’t done to over extremities like that of a horror or gore type of film but rather to complement the inherent disturbing nature of the lead character, played by Joaquin Phoenix.
The film is written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, who also was responsible for the psychological thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin and it’s clear from both films that she has a very astute eye for detail. There are quite a few close-up shots of specific objects or aspects of characters faces, that together aim to represent a deeper symbolic meaning to what Ramsay wants us to take away from those details. There are connections to grasp between scenes juxtaposed over each other and together the film was wonderful to watch with a director who is very calculating with what she chooses to show on screen. I also really enjoyed one particular action sequence which was all played out through the use of black and white security cameras and it added an interesting directing aesthetic decision to the film.
Being a character study, Ramsay smartly gives Joaquin Phoenix the room to really show off his amazing character actor abilities, which more than likely led to him winning Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Much like her eye for detail, Phoenix’s attention for little idiosyncrasies or the way his character would move were examples that showed a deeper understanding for revealing who his character was and more importantly how he was feeling. Intertwined with this are some disturbing flashback sequences of his past which also helped paint the picture of this interesting and unique character.
Having said largely the majority of what I liked about the film, I still left feeling like it didn’t overall blow me away. For a film that was awarded the Best Screenplay at Cannes, I was expecting a lot more exciting aspects with the direction of the narrative but was met in return with a minimalistic slow-burn type of plot that didn’t go to incredibly tense heights. I still enjoyed exploring this character in this dark world that also herald some mysterious conspiracy elements, but altogether it came across as emotionally lackluster to what it felt like it was going for. The story tried to build up to an emotionally driven payoff but it was one that didn’t really work for me. I did feel a level of sympathy and interest towards the lead but it wasn’t to an extent that completely captivated me.
So, whilst technically I’d argue You Were Never Really Here is a sound film, it’s story ultimately is a mysterious puzzle that left me wanting. There are elements of the story that felt great and darkly interesting at times. Then there’s other moments which weren’t that exciting. I wanted to care more about the subject matter and the individuals it explored but alas I didn’t. I’ll still be recommending this as a film to watch this year because it is very much a good film but a good film is where I’ll be leaving it as.