Glasgow Film Festival Review : ‘You Were Never Really Here’

The long-awaited follow up to Lynne Ramsay’s 2012 film ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin‘, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ is adapted from the Jonathan Ames novella. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hammer-wielding ex-marine vigilante hired to save young girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade. His current case involves the rescue of the state senator’s daughter (played by Ekaterina Samsonov).

Joaquin Phoenix‘s Joe is devoid of all emotion and walks a fine line between unhinged and apathetic. There is an early scene where Joe is holding a pocket knife and repeatedly drops it on the wooden floor, only moving his foot out of the way of the blade at the last second. It is in moments like this that Phoenix has a really strong performance. In other scenes, his performance is a little underdeveloped. I got annoyed at times, it is a Joaquin mumble-a-thon on the verge of being completely incomprehensible.

The other characters are given very little screen time. There isn’t much exposition surrounding the senator’s daughter, and the political scandal. All of the real narrative progression is muted in favour of the character study of Joe. The other performers are really great. Ekaterina Samsonov gives a distinct performance, as does Judith Roberts as Joe’s elderly mother. When we are first introduced to her she has been watching ‘Psycho‘ (1960).

The reference to the Hitchcock film is maintained throughout the film. Through use of black and white CCTV footage in the hotel scenes, we see perspectives of the building, notably the corridors and staircases. In one section, Joe is at the top of the stairs, looking down. Zizek, in ‘The Perverts Guide to Cinema‘ (2006), defines each floor in the house in ‘Psycho’ as representing the superego, the ego, and the id. There are certainly the same things at stake here. Joe confuses the three, and his actions represent a scramble of them.

Jonny Greenwood and the London Contemporary Orchestra provide the score for the film. It is one of the most sophisticated scores I’ve heard in quite some time. Greenwood, having also produced the score for PT Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread‘, is very much in his element. His precision in writing for the scene is evident from the first minutes of the picture. The percussive sounds wind up in an anxious intensity where the strings further build the urgency of each sequence. The score is easily my favourite part of ‘You Were Never Really Here‘, and I stayed until the final credit to hear every last note.

The cinematography is technically fascinating. In a brief pause from the fast-paced editing, the camera stops on the faces of some tourists Joe has been asked to photograph. We see their faces in extreme close-up. Joe, taking the photo on a digital camera, lacks any empathy and stares blankly at the world slows around him. This is a film which unravels through the tiniest of details. I get the feeling that, like some more experimental albums, you can perhaps get a lot out of experiencing it again on the second or third time.

Zach Roddis |[rating=3]

Mystery, Thriller | UK, 2018 | 15| 24th February 2018 (Glasgow Film Festival) | Studiocanal | Dir.Lynne Ramsay | Joaquin Phoenix, Dante Pereira-Olson, Larry Canady, Ekaterina Samsonov