Review - You Were Never Really Here
(Warning: the following review contains major spoilers for You Were Never Really Here)
The opening scene of You Were Never Really Here sets the tone for the rest of the film. We are immediately thrown right into the middle of Joe’s story and his life. After the brutal murder in the hotel shower, my first impression of Joe was that he was going to just be a one dimensional character. Boy was I wrong. Only a few minutes after we see Joe leaving the scene of a shower murder, he’s back at the home he shares with his elderly mother. We get the sense that the mother can’t really take care of herself, and Joe is doing everything for her. We find out that Joe is actually a contract killer who is assigned jobs through a middle man. In one scene, we see the son of the middle man watching Joe as he arrives home. Joe then expresses his fear for the son’s safety now that he knows where Joe lives. Joe’s boss brushes it off and assigns him the next job, which is a pretty big one. A state senator wants to hire Joe to secretly rescue his daughter, Nina, from a sex trafficking operation. Joe accepts the job and starts to stake out the brothel house where Nina is being held. The address of this brothel was anonymously texted to the Senator. Joe is able to enter the brothel by using the door’s security code that he got out of a courier who he intimidated and taped up in the back of his car. Joe violently kills a couple security guards and a few patrons of this brothel on his way to the third floor to find Nina. Joe is successful in finding her and taking her to a motel to wait for the time to meet up with her dad and get her back home. While they are waiting, the TV news reports that the Senator has apparently committed suicide by jumping off of a building. Not too long after they hear that report, there’s a knock at their hotel room door. It turns out to be a group of corrupt police officers who are working for the sex traffickers. They take Nina and Joe is able to overpower the one officer who is guarding him and escape. Joe finds out that his boss, his middle man, and the middle man’s son have all been murdered by the corrupt police in their search for where Joe lives. Joe is able to sneak into the top floor of his house and he finds that his mother has been murdered in her bed. He discovers two of the corrupt police officers and kills one and fatally wounds the other. The wounded officer reveals where Nina is being held at now. It turns out the Governor is the master mind behind the whole sex trafficking ring and that Nina was “his favorite”. Joe is obviously upset at the death of his mother and decides to give her a water burial. Her body is wrapped in black plastic bags and he drives to, what I assume is, an isolated lake in the middle of the woods. As he’s walking to the water, we see him pick up several rocks and place them in his pocket. His plan was to bury his mother and drown himself. But as he’s getting deeper into the water, he has a vision of Nina and changes his mind. Joe seemingly pieces together what has all happened and goes to the Governor’s rural mansion to look for Nina. Joe kills a couple security guards on his way into the mansion and finally finds the Governor. But by that time, the Governor’s throat has been slit. Joe gets very upset and wanders around the mansion hallucinating. He ends ups finding Nina in the kitchen with a bloody straight razor. The movie ends with Joe and Nina sitting and eating quietly in a diner. Joe passes out from exhaustion and has a suicidal dream. He wakes up to Nina who says, “It’s a beautiful day”. Joe agrees with her and they leave together, seemingly not really knowing where they are going.
The director of this movie is Lynne Ramsay who hasn’t had a feature released since 2011. But this movie was shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and it won Best Screenplay and Best Actor at the festival. Both of those awards are well deserved, in my opinion. Joaquin Phoenix did a wonderful job of portraying Joe. Something that I didn’t really cover in the plot is that all throughout this movie, Joe is having flashbacks to somewhere in a combat zone in the Middle East, as well as memories of some sort of federal agency. I took this to mean that Joe is a former military member and a former employee of the NSA or FBI or something similar. I don’t think we ever find out definitively, but I’m sure that’s his past. That would also explain the violent flashbacks, which are most certainly caused by PTSD. This also helped me realize that Joe was a very complicated character. Yes, he’s killing for money, but in the case of Nina, he’s clearly the good guy. I also think that we are supposed to believe that all his jobs are similar in nature, that he’s killing the bad guys. But that’s another thing that I don’t think is ever explained definitively in the movie. The movie is told from Joe’s point of view and he’s the only character that we really get to know at all. I think this makes the movie more interesting because it’s not wasting time trying to fit in a bunch of unnecessary information about un-important characters. The movie also makes good use of visuals and music, which it needs, because the dialogue in this movie is actually pretty minimal. The movie is very emotional and a lot of the movie is darker, shadowy, and even a bit grainy at times. The music added to the emotional ups and downs. One of my favorite things in the movie is that in the scenes where Joe is killing people, the music was upbeat, feel good type music. The juxtaposition of the music with the scene that was playing out was great. I think it did a good job of further showing that Joe is very internally conflicted about many things. Oh, and did I mention that Joe’s weapon of choice is a hammer?
I think that Joaquin Phoenix did a tremendous job of portraying Joe in this movie. All the other actors did great too, but any of the other characters really could be replaced by any other actor. There are probably only a few actors that could pull off the character of Joe so well. The film itself has a runtime of right around 90 minutes, and I think that was the perfect amount of time. I don’t think I’m missing anything from the story, and I don’t think any part of the movie was unnecessary. This is another A24 movie, and I don’t think they’ve disappointed me yet. A24 keeps putting out good movies, and I hope they keep it up. I definitely recommend this film and if I were to rate it like we do in our episodes, I’d give You Were Never Really Here 8.5 bloody hammers out of 10.