‘You Were Never Really Here’ could equally have been the title of the recent Best Foreign film Oscar nominated Loveless. Except here Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a grown man scarred by flashbacks of an abusive childhood.Though he lives with his elderly mother and their relationship is close it directly contradicts his ‘job’ as a hammer wielding hitman despatching villains without hesitation.
From the very beginning it’s made clear that here is a man without remorse as he clears up the mess from a hit. By the look of its after effects something very bloody has happened. It’s never made clear exactly what and its a mark of director Lynne Ramsey’s film and respect for the intelligence of the audience that we’re going to have to piece together what’s going on. It’s not easy viewing. From Joe’s penchant for auto asphyxiation to frequent flashbacks to an abused childhood, to the effects of post traumatic stress disorder to the discovery of a pile of dead Chinese people in a truck he is a very messed up man and it can be little surprise that he’s ended up how we find him now.
And where we find Joaquin Phoenix’ Joe is as the saviour of the daughter of a politician who’s been kidnapped to work in a paedophile brothel. Stocking up at a hardware store with an appropriately named ball pein hammer he sets about rescuing the teenager in one of the film’s best sequences. Shown primarily via CCTV he works his way through the house. Its simplicity and mercifully brief snatches of hammer to the head violence makes it both compelling yet appalling viewing.
It’s one of several scenes that stick in the mind because whilst it is shocking Ramsey balances it with a beautifully lit scene with Joe below the surface of a lake and an oddly humorous scene where he lies on the floor with one of his dying victims mumbling the lyrics to Charlene’s ‘Never been to me’. In turn shocking, beautiful and funny yet this is determinedly grim and unrelenting and far from the action fest that might be expected. Brilliantly edited with scant dialogue but frequently whispered ethereal voices haunting him throughout its a credit that so much is packed into its 95 minutes at a time when economy of running time seems out of fashion in an era of bloated blockbusters.
This is Lynne Ramsey’s first film in seven years after the infamous falling out and departure from ‘Jane got a gun’ but here plays like Hitman got a Hammer. For Joaquin Phoenix fans this is Taxi Driver for a new generation with flashes of Leon and even Taken and not in a bad way.
Here’s the trailer…….