You Were Never Really Here Review – Joaquin Phoenix Delivers a Heart Stopping Performance

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You Were Never Really Here, from Amazon Studios, British Film Institute, Film 4 and Why Not Productions, presents the story of a traumatized former soldier who stateside becomes the search and rescue muscle to a private investigator.

Directed and written by Lynne Ramsey, You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Frank Pando, John Doman, Alex Manette, Ekaterina Samsonov, Ace Ramsey, Kate Easton, Scott Price, Alessandro Nivola, Leigh Dunham. Based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames.

You Were Never Really Here begins in Cincinnati, Ohio, where an unseen figure is cleaning up any evidence inside a hotel room. A “Sandy” name plate necklace rests on the bed with other trinkets, scooped up in an envelope the bed spread is straighten, doorknobs wiped, all traces gone.

Walking out the fire escape, an unknown stranger determines our mercenary is an easy target and attempts a mugging. With deftness, the stranger is moaning in pain. Catching a cab, our mercenary is seen in the rearview as the cabbie, played by Larry Canady, mouths the words, You Were Never Really here as jazz beats out its eccentric rhythms.

Soon, Joe, our mercenary, played by Joaquin Phoenix, make a call from the airport, too words, “It’s done” are spoken.


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Soon we’re back in New York City, and we see Joe in the light, his body bears the scars of many battles, gashes, bullet and knife wounds are evident. Home is Queens, with mom, played by Judith Roberts, Joe arrives back to find her asleep in the chair, glasses on, television on, waiting. The two have a mutual respect.

Joe still faces aggravated Post Traumatic Stress nightmares, day sweats and suicidal moments. In addition to war scars, which are seen in snapshot flashes, his childhood which is seen in flashbacks was deeply abusive with his mother physically abused, beaten in front of him. He sits even as an adult with plastic bags over his head taunting death.

His post war acclimation back into society, hasn’t gone well and he became the muscle/mercenary for a exclusive Manhattan private investigator who specializes in rescuing young girl runaways or kidnap victims of wealthy parents.

After hearing of the Cincinnati job, he is called and arrives in John McCleary’s office, played by John Doman, who explains, New York State Senator Albert Votto, played by Alex Manette, heard of his work and wants to hire him to rescue his daughter.

In the meeting Votto explains he understands he can be brutal and guarantees lethal force is acceptable.

The lead takes him to the Upper East Side, a mansion townhouse, soon a delivery boy walks out. Finding the security points Joe enters the mansion, the entire sequence inside the mansion, is seen from a third person angle, through the black and white security cameras.

He works his ways past the guards to where the girls are kept. Identifying Nina, played by Ekaterina Samsonov, and carries her out. In the security camera, all in black and white imagery we see a girl, maybe eight, walking out of the room in her nightgown.

With the rescue comes the retaliation and what follows is a mystery that unravels in scandalous, damaging, escalation. Erasing lives, trails, traces effectively shows the realities of when power and privilege clash.


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You Were Never Really Here is as immersive as it comes when scandal threatens to derail political power and ambition. Believable the story line is heightened by the skills of Joaquin Phoenix. A white knuckle, unrestrained, savage crusade toward an epic battle.

An award winning film having debut at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival You Were Never Really Here won Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Joaquin Phoenix stuns as the mercenary/rescuer of women, reminiscent of Taxi Driver, the story is ramped up with megawatt voltage. I felt as if I were watching a combination of Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. His performance elevates the plot and storyline.

The film is brutal, and explore nearly all the taboo topics, especially those of pedophilia among Manhattan’s wealthy and politically affluent community. The choices of the director Lynne Ramsey, add to the surreal quality.

You Were Never Really Here deliveres at sonic speed. A nuclear explosion of directing, story and acting. It is surprising, brutal and resonates. You Were Never Really Here is in limited release. See it.  

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