You Were Never Really Here - Review

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I'm tired of critics describing films as the *blank* for a new generation. In this case, it was Taxi Driver that You Were Never Really Here was compared to, and while it doesn't hurt to be in such company, this is an entirely different movie, that dares to be something new.

You Were Never Really Here is the latest effort from Lynne Ramsay, director of We Need To Talk About Kevin, and it stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. Joe's character is parceled out slowly, forcing the viewer to watch closely, to not miss a single scene. For someone who loves seeing films in theaters, this is ideal.

Through unbearably tense flashbacks, we begin to learn who Joe is, and why he does the things he does. This, along with the riveting story the film tells, kept me on my toes. It's been a long while since l've seen a movie this engaging that doesn't resort to cheap tricks to keep me in. Montage is utilized superbly and randomly, appearing at the most inopportune moments for Joe: Sound quality is ratcheted up, and the various smash cuts caused me to jump several times. This is not a scary movie, but the subject matter at hand is, and the way the film is edited adds a layer of tension most films ruin through too much backstory. You Were Never Really Here gives just enough to draw you in, then recoils. It's a dangerous game to play with the audience, but it works beautifully. 

Joaquin Phoenix has never been better here. Joe is a hard, bulky ex-soldier who feels no remorse in killing, but will take the time to lye with a man he has shot until he dies. He is a complicated, nervous character that takes some time to know, and even then it is hard to predict what he will do. Phoenix, who has an excellent face for this kind of role, does his best acting through his body. He is concise, and lets his stature do the talking. Several scenes of body examination and preparation are thrown in to show us how mangled Joe's body is, not unlike a hammer that has been used too many times. He is rough, mean, and insane, which makes him an extremely compelling protagonist. 

Music in You Were Never Really Here is used sparingly to great reward. Jonny Greenwood's original score mixes electronic flourishes with antsy strings, recalling the compulsiveness of his soundtrack to There Will Be Blood. In the same way that editing adds a layer, so does the music, which often begins as a simple strum or beep, then rises into something much more tense and driving. Music feels taylor-made for scenes, perfectly capturing the darkly comic mood of the film.

The meaning of You Were Never Really Here will likely be difficult to determine, but filmmaker and screenwriter Lynne Rasmsay has given us all the pieces. Gorgeous cinematography transforms simple killings into brutal acts of terror, burials into heavenly encounters. There is some seriously talented talent on board this film, and it shines through in every way. This is truly a masterpiece, and the best film of 2018 so far.