FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE REVIEW: Last Friday, I saw “You Were Never Really Here,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Signs), Ekaterina Samsonov (Anethesia, The Ticket), Judith Roberts (Eraserhead, Death Sentence), John Doman (Mercury Rising, Mystic River), Alex Manette (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shame), Frank Pando (The Visitor, The Sopranos [TV series]), Vinicius Damasceno (Snafu [TV series], Blue Bloods [TV series]), and Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off, Jurassic Park III). It is directed by Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar), who also wrote the screenplay. Joe (Phoenix), a traumatized veteran hired to retrieve missing girls, is caught in the middle of an ugly scheme that tears his life apart.
I can’t recall the last time a movie gave me chills… has it ever happened? I’m sure it has, but it’s certainly been a while. Joaquin Phoenix, for anyone who cares to look into his portfolio and acting style, is a peculiarity. To me, he’s just as interesting of an actor as he is when he’s in character. He gives off this vibe of pure oddity, as if he’s detached from this world and just playing these weird figures in film. I’m fascinated in his approach because it makes him more of an enigma of a man in real life. Since I reviewed “Walk the Line,” I’ve been wanting to sit down to another Phoenix feature; low and behold, “You Were Never Here” arrives to Redbox. While I’ve heard of it before, having wanted to see it in theaters when it was making its run, knowledge of what the heck it was about was left absent in my mind, making for an even more interesting experience when I sat down to view it unaware of where it would take me. And boy, did it take me down a bizarre road. For such a simple concept of a hired gun saving adolescent girls from sex trafficking, “You Were Never Here” explores some deep, dark parallels that make for an engaging experience I’d never knew I’d take. When I said that I got chills watching this, I meant it. The story comes slow, subtle, and quiet, taking no time to explain anything because it really doesn’t have to. It’s messed up, in your face, and hard to swallow. The most shocking thing is, I never knew it was just under an hour and thirty minutes, as it closed out on a note I couldn’t believe. Folks, it’s often hard for me to find a movie that cuts as deep as this; one that is so brutal yet silent that I can’t help but be left speechless. I don’t want to go into details in case you do want to watch this movie, but I will say that it plays to its own tune. You aren’t going to find anything too happy with this project, let alone an ending that is satisfying (I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked it or not). What you will walk away with, however, is an appreciation in how different this film is. Not necessarily in the sense of original storytelling, but rather in a fresh take. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant, simply brilliant. I loved his performance in this as even without words he spoke volumes through emotion; then again, there was no surprise that he would do so well. While everyone else was surely a supporting character, they all did outstanding, especially Ekaterina Samsonov (what a name) who knocked it out of the park as the girl Phoenix had to save. Their chemistry, while not onscreen much, was electric, as they were two actors dominating their scenes to the full extent. This movie hardly missed a beat, though I will say that once the twist of the story takes place (somewhere in the middle of the second act), things get better and more depressing. I don’t mean to say that if it’s depressing then it’s automatically better (that’s what Warner Bros. thinks with its DC cinematic universe). Really, the twist was the part that gave me chills, and the relentless, brutal nature of the story after that made for gripping storytelling. I was captivated both by the performances and the cinematography, all of which worked hand-in-hand to deliver something I’ll never forget. What makes it all the more interesting is how there really isn’t character development at all. Everything is situational, yet you can’t help but feel agony for these characters because of this dilemma and how they are subtly made relatable through terrific acting. Sure, Phoenix’s character of Joe is given some backstory regarding his broken childhood, but there were a few aspects to it I was unsure of (like his time spent as a solider in the desert); nonetheless, it all made for odd and gritty imagery that is weird to wrap my head around. As with any movie, everything escalates to the conclusion, which is where my biggest gripe in the story takes place. For the most part, this is a spectacular movie, albeit its harsh experience to sit through (you certainly have to be in a specific mood to watch this). However, the ending left me divided. With the story in mind, it makes sense why it would finish the way it did. I often said myself after watching it “what else could they do?” And really, that’s the truth. When taking everything into account, there weren’t many places the story could go, and that’s the harsh reality a moviegoer has to deal with when they see “You Were Never Really Here.” For me to demand a better ending would be to demand a different approach to the ending, which leaves me at a crossroads. Needless to say, this is a sad film with a sad (but hopeful?) conclusion, so if you are okay with that, you’ll enjoy this; it’s a fantastically made feature regardless. FINAL SCORE: 86%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: