Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is tense, black, and redemptive. It is anxiety-inducing, gripping filmmaking.

Joe is used to dealing with terrible people. He is tasked with rescuing a young girl, who is being held by some dangerous people…

Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, You Were Never Really Here is a thriller with a dark premise. The film is predominantly a story about a man operating in a shady world. Joe is something of an antihero in that he uses questionable methods, even though his intentions are good. The focal drive is the journey of this character, one that navigates PTSD flashbacks whilst operating in dangerous situations.

Writer-director Lynne Ramsey reveals her protagonist and the main narrative through a series of flashbacks which give meaning and backstory. From the opening sequence, it would be understandable to think Joe’s job was quite something else. Ramsay teases viewers by dangling imagery in front of them; it is only as the film progresses that facts become clearer.

You Were Never Really Here amplifies conventions of a psychological thriller, combining these with a revenge flick. Ramsay’s direction is great. The film builds tension from the very beginning, and this is almost unbearable at times. Ramsay does not offer the cathartic violence some may expect, but it is a better film for this. The music and aspects of the art direction give them film a 1980s feel. This is a great backdrop for which the action to unfold. The central narrative is bleak, but not without redemption.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerful central performance as Joe. His struggle is conveyed with a startling conviction. Ekaterina Samsonov is also strong as Nina, and Judith Roberts is good too. Joe’s journey can be harrowing, yet it is hard to look away. You Were Never Really Here is one not to miss.

You Were Never Really Here is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.