You Were Never Really Here

by Derek Deskins

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 17, 2018

You Were Never Really Here

It has been a long seven years since the last time we got a film from writer-director Lynne Ramsay. The Scottish director dropped a masterpiece in 2011's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" but after leaving the production of "Jane Got a Gun" it wouldn't be until "You Were Never Really Here" that we'd get Ramsay in the director's chair again. Despite the long wait, Ramsay doesn't miss a beat with "You Were Never Really Here."

Joe is a special kind of hitman. Rather than just a hired gun, Joe specializes in rescuing young girls and punishing their captors, relentlessly. While his war-torn and abuse tormented past is what has prepared him for this level of violence, it also plagues his psyche with dark thoughts and suicidal tendencies. When a job goes sideways, Joe finds himself burning down his own world all while trying to find the reason to keep living.

If you have even a passing familiarity with Lynne Ramsay's work, you know that sitting down for one of her films isn't exactly a time to be uplifted. While a director like Quentin Tarantino is noted for his proclivity for unblinking violence, Ramsay makes films that are violent without the onscreen bloodshed. Her differing approach to violence explores the ramifications rather than its splattery glorification. When someone is killed in a Lynne Ramsay film, you don't cringe at the blood spray, you suffer through the after effects. It is an approach to violence that few other than Ramsay can pull off, and in "You Were Never Really Here," this exploration is paramount to its lead character.

Ever since Joaquin Phoenix confused us all in "I'm Still Here," he's apparently been doing a kind of actor's penance, turning in some of the most quietly fantastic performances of any actor's career. Phoenix disappears into Joe, showing us so much more about his character than any amount of dialogue would be able to muster. The role is almost entirely silent and yet, you come to know Joe, with his unease and dread of life creeping into every crevice. It is a performance of subtleties upon which the film hinges and Phoenix is mesmerizing.

"You Were Never Really Here" is a thriller that feels both fantastically new and rooted in a dark and gritty 70s aesthetic. It is contemplative, but not annoyingly so, clocking in at a clean 90 minutes. It is emotionally exhausting and thematically rich. However, while as a film it is fantastic (although I wouldn't go recommending it to your grandmother), the Blu-ray release is shockingly bare. There is not a special feature in sight. While the choice to forego deleted scenes or some kind of gauche blooper reel makes sense for the film itself, the lack of inclusion of even a commentary track ignores the cinephiliac audience that this film was made for. It feels like the type of the release that is waiting for Criterion to pick up the film, a placeholder for something greater.

"You Were Never Really Here"

Blu-ray + Digital