You Were Never Really Here had it's initial debut during Cannes LAST year (albeit in an unfinished form) and been hitting the festival circuit since, but Amazon Studios' film is finally coming to Prime later this month...And you're going to want to watch it. Check out my full review below!
Lynne Ramsay's (We Need to Talk About Kevin) latest film is coming from Amazon Studios, joining a growing list of impressive original films coming directly to streaming services (just look at Netflix's Hold the Dark). Starring Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here is a dark film with some twists thrown in to keep you on your toes.
Phoenix plays Joe, a gun for hire who specializes in finding girls/women who’ve been kidnapped and forced in sex trafficking. His penchant for violence and highly effective methods keeps him busy. On top of tracking down bad guys, he spends his time taking care of his elderly mother in the home they grew up in.
When Joe’s “handler” offers a new job to track down the Senator’s daughter, Nina, who was recently taken, it doesn’t seem like a job any different from the others (despite being higher profile). Once he finds Nina and awaits recovery/payment things go off the rails. What should have been a simple job sees Joe thrust in the middle of something far bigger, with a conspiracy that goes all the way to the Governor…
I don't want to go much further in terms of talking about the story/plot than that. In many ways, You Were Never Really Here, has strong noir vibes and the twists make for some engaging times that are worth experiencing fresh. While there's no central "mystery" involved that's typical of noir films, there's unmistakable undertones of the genre sprinkled throughout. You're not left wondering how the plot is going to wrap up, but more in how JOE, specifically, is going to deal with it all.
At its heart, the film is very much a character driven story (Hell, only a few are given names) and the events that happen only highlight the character of Joe and his own journey. Being former-military, Joe is still dealing with trauma he endured overseas, on top of the abuse he and his mother dealt with in his childhood.
The movie shows how Joe deals with, or doesn't, his past via frequent flashbacks that intersperse with things he's currently doing. It's a visceral way of showing his PTSD and is highly effective for driving the tension and keeping you invested as you watch.
Along this train of thought, I really loved how the film told it's story primarily through visuals. The excellent cinematography helped convey emotion and moved the plot along without you even noticing how sparse the dialog is throughout. Seriously, communication in the film is kept to a bare minimum and the story is conveyed through the visuals.
I don't want to delve into spoilers, but there's a great example of this near the latter half of the film when Joe is going back to try and figure out what happened and what he should do next. It's a sequence that takes place over a couple scenes for a few minutes and it's entirely without dialog. Despite the fact Joe, and you, are piecing together events that have ALREADY happened, the visual storytelling made it absolutely clear what had transpired. We're figuring it out at the same time as Joe, which only heightens the tension as we roll to the next scene in his house...All done without a character saying a thing.
It was highly impressive and showed the skill of the filmmaker and made for some seriously engaging viewing. For the most part, you're not even conscious how much information you're being fed until you look back on the scenes and how they played out. It's an impressive feat, especially when you throw on the fact it's a fairly short film, coming in at just about 90 minutes. It's a film with all the fat trimmed out, and pulls you along at a breakneck pace. You're not given much time to 'rest' throughout the story and when it's all said and done you're left feeling like you're ran a marathon (in a good way).
While this minimal dialog approach made for some pretty visceral storytelling, it also gives rise to one of the few problems I had with the film. Because there's so little dialog in the film, when characters speak it's important to listen and know what's being said. The problem, however, is that oftentimes it seemed the dialog on the soundtrack didn't seem to have much priority given to it. I found the ambient noises overpowered the dialog, and when conversations happened, I had to crank up my volume (even a couple times rewind because I missed something) to hear it. While this isn't necessarily a huge deal, for a film that put so much attention and forethought into everything else, it seemed like an oversight. That said, perhaps it was an issue with my screener and not something we'll encounter when it goes live on Amazon Prime.