Is this seriously an arthouse action movie? I won’t complain, really, because it’s not like I see Joaquin Phoenix everyday, but… alright. Here’s my money, movie. Let’s see what you got.
The story looks like it’s about a hired gun… well, hired to seek out the daughter of his important-looking client and rescue her from… prostitution? Trafficking? I don’t know, she needs saving and looks to be a sex slave of sorts.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Joaquin Phoenix (IRRATIONAL MAN , WALK THE LINE , GLADIATOR , and upcoming films DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT  and THE SISTERS BROTHERS ) and Ekaterina Samsonov (WONDERSTRUCK ).
Now for the crew. Writing and Directing is Lynne Ramsay, known for WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011). Composing the score is Jonny Greenwood, known for PHANTOM THREAD (2017), INHERENT VICE (2014), and THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007). The cinematographer is Thomas Townend, known for ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011). Finally, the editor is Joe Bini, known for AMERICAN HONEY (2016), BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), and RESCUE DAWN (2006).
Overall, I’m intrigued. Not overly stoked, but Phoenix is always a welcomed face on the big screen. Just… don’t rap for me. Please.
This is my honest opinion of: YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Set in New York City. Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hired gun who has just been assigned to locate Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the teen daughter of Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), whom he suspects is held within a place where there’s underage prostitution. Though the rescue is successful, the result isn’t what Joe expected. Suddenly, Nina is recaptured by corrupt cops and hitmen and now is seeking answers as to what’s going on and where to find where Nina was taken.
I liked it. This was a pretty good flick.
As per usual, Phoenix does a stellar job, but that’s to be expected from the man. But what makes him so good here? There are so many layers and subtleties to Joe that Phoenix knew how to work with. For one thing, Joe’s choice of weapon: the ballpoint hammer. If I’m interpreting the flashbacks correctly, I think Joe’s father used to use the hammer to abuse him. Now Joe uses it as his weapon of choice to beat assholes with. Some poetic justice there. Hell, one of my favorite moments in the movie is early on when someone tries to mug him, but Joe immediately headbutts him only once and knocks the mugger out cold. It’s quick, but effective, and oh so hilariously awesome. But as bad ass, paranoid, and even uptight as he is, the movie finds time to show his humane side. He lives with his mom and their relationship is pretty complicated. Her health is clearly failing, but they still manage to laugh. When she frustrates him, he will mime a “killing her” gesture with his hammer, showing that Joe does have an inkling of a sense of humor. He’s awesomely written and with a combination of Phoenix’s acting and great direction make Joe a wonderful character to root for.
What’s also incredibly impressive about the flick is that nothing is really clear when things get complicated. There’s a lot that the audience has to interpret for themselves and give the story some serious thought on. When you watch the news footage of Senator Votto allegedly committing suicide, that’s when Joe is attacked by rogue police officers who reacquire Nina. The implication, of course, being that the police killed the man and made it look like a suicide, or otherwise wiped away traces of foul play that would lead to them. Through him, they probably learned that Joe was hired to find his daughter, found people who knew him and killed them, including his mother, everything does have a subtle connection if you’re willing to give it a few moments of thought.
I suppose my only real complaint about the flick is that it might be a little too short. It ends rather… anticlimactically. Like, Joe kills people that are looking for him, is about to commit suicide after laying his mother to rest, but then summons the courage to find Nina again, only to find that… she saved herself by killing the Governor that she was sold off to. The rest of the ending is pretty stale. Just… Joe being tired and the two of them running to hide from anyone else that might be looking for them. Sure, the surprise fake death that turns out to be a power nap was a visual trip, but the movie ends with very little build-up.
Overall, the third act is really all that bothered me about the flick. I hope there’s a sequel that ties off loose ends and gives us a little more of Joe kicking ass. But as it stands, it’s a different kind of action film. Very stylized, moody, more focused on atmosphere than actual action. Not that the action is slacking in brutality and bloody, chunky violence. I may not have agreed with every choice this movie made, and I certainly don’t agree with the “next gen TAXI DRIVER (1976)” claims, but it was a worthwhile experience to me. I recommend this flick. It’s no must-see, so I recommend a matinee, or discount day at your local cinemas. At worst, I definitely give this a rental. So long as you’re not expecting Rambo with a hammer, I think audiences will find something of value with this.
My honest rating for YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE: 4/5
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