'You Were Never Really Here' a tormented man's dark ascent into the light

Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, an Amazon Studios release. (Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa | Amazon Studios)

You Were Never Really Here
4 out of 5 Stars
: Lynne Ramsay
Writer: Lynne Ramsay (screenplay), Jonathan Ames (novel)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rated: R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, language, and brief nudity

Synopsis: A traumatized Gulf War veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a man for hire with a specialty of working in the darkest, bleakest corners of inhumanity.

Review: SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KUTV) - With “You Were Never Really Here,” director Lynne Ramsay (“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Ratcatcher”) embarks on a pitch-black journey into the waking nightmare of Joe, a Gulf War veteran with PTSD that stretches beyond his military service. It’s gruesome from the start and Joe’s intentions and motivations aren’t entirely clear. To say that Joe is complicated would be something of an understatement. He’s paranoid and prone to violence. He’s also caring and emotionally invested. Joe is and isn’t a coldblooded killer. He’s a man with a purpose, even if that purpose is something that takes him to places that feed his trauma, rather than healing it.

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Phoenix has always had a knack for playing characters that are off kilter. As Joe, the actor shows off his range as the line between what is in the character’s head and what is real is blurred to the point that the audience can never truly trust what they are seeing. Is our protagonist a hero, a villain or something found outside of definitions? A necessary evil, perhaps?

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There’s nothing safe about “You Were Never Really Here.” The ground is constantly shifting and even its quiet moments, scenes where the relationship between Joe and his mother is explored, are underlined with a nervous tension. It is a film that rivals the likes of “Seven” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as it dives into a world where young girls are kidnapped and robbed of their innocence.

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