You Were Never Really Here (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Sometimes hype is a bad thing, and with my viewing of You Were Never Really Here (2017) – which I saw on Prime Instant – I think the hype affected my opinion. I went into this film with much hope that it would be a top contender, and I was also concerned that it would make me extremely uncomfortable…however, by the time it had ended, I found myself disappointed with regard to both of those feelings.

You were never really here was underwhelming

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran who is haunted by his past, somehow manages to re-purpose his trauma into determination. His fearlessness and indifference to violence are turned into powerful tools in which he utilizes to rescue missing girls. Unfortunately, one job spins out of control, and he finds himself entangled in a much bigger situation than he’d signed up for.

Director Lynn Ramsay very much puts the camera on Phoenix in this film. This is Joe’s story for the most part, and the cinematography makes sure that we know this. While it takes a few moments before we clearly see his face, it is abundantly clear that this film is concerned with the man more so than his actions. That is why when she opts to use security cameras to show Joe doing his “job” for the first time when he is hellbent on retrieving Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), it is so perplexing. It’s the only moment in the film that is presented with a “found footage” feel, and it seems extremely out of place. I would have preferred to be cramped with Joe while he did his thing, which would have felt more in line with the moment.  To be clear, Phoenix is great, as per usual – but his performance isn’t enough to make me love this film.

The hype of this film led me to expect a gritty-but-grounded version of the Punisher. He would go in to rescue these girls who’d be taken for the purposes of the sex trade – thus, in reaction to the events on screen, I expected to feel uncomfortable and angry by the stories end, while also feeling a righteous vindication despite his violent methods. Most of that reaction is denied by the storytelling and presentation, which is not necessarily a bad choice, but the real surprise was the attempted mystery elements that never clicked for me.

Joe’s troubled past is revealed through a series of quick flashes to various moments,, voice-overs, and scenes of Joe attempting to hurt himself in some way while breathing rhythmically. There are enough pieces to the puzzle to assemble a story of why he’s so messed up, but it didn’t add up to anything that I felt was worth it. Then there is the conspiracy Joe finds himself in…t never feels fully developed and the end, and it is far from cathartic. Even a choice to have a shocking moment towards the end of the film turning out to be simply a fantasy – a trope most people dislike – only exemplifies why I’m not a fan of this film.

Final thoughts…

You Were Never Really Here had me wishing I’d not been. Not that it’s bad, but it definitely wasn’t what I’d gone in expecting. I don’t think this film is really worth anyone’s time, unless you’re a big fan of Phoenix. Ultimately, I give the film the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.

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