Brilliant British filmmaker Lynne Ramsay returns to cinemas from Friday March 9 with the startling, brutal and dazzling ‘You Were Never Really Here’. This heady crime film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a tormented enforcer and war veteran in New York City. It’s a creative tour de force that thrillingly reworks the crime genre through a remarkable combination of sound, music, image and performance.
Here are five reasons why Time Out is proud to present ‘You Were Never Really Here’ as Film of the Month.
1. It features a career-high performance by Joaquin Phoenix
Phoenix won the Best Actor award at Cannes last year for ‘You Were Never Really Here’. He is in almost every frame of the film as Joe, a military veteran-turned-hired enforcer caught in a violent spiral when a mission to rescue a senator's daughter from a city brothel goes wrong. It’s a seriously intense performance – so much so that at times you wonder whether you’re viewing reality or merely fragments of Joe’s disturbed mind as we flash back to his childhood and his war experiences. Critics have compared the film to ‘Taxi Driver’, and Phoenix’s performance is right up there with Robert De Niro’s.
2. It’s a crime story like no other
This is a crime thriller – it’s tense and terrifying. We’re right there with Joe as his mission to save a young girl from dark forces takes ever more troubling turns as he faces a web of political intrigue and corruption across the city. Alongside the immediate thrills of the film’s engrossing and mysterious story, we also enjoy a rich and rewarding close-up portrait of Joe – whose past life we find out more and more about. It’s a daring and exciting spin on the crime genre.
3. Director Lynne Ramsay is one of the very best British filmmakers working today
This happens to be Glasgow-born Ramsay’s second film set in America – her last film was ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’. But her style and approach to making films remain as distinctive and personal as when she first caught the film world’s attention with two short films, ‘Small Deaths’ and ‘Gasman’ in the mid-1990s. They were followed by her superb first feature, ‘Ratcatcher’ in 1999, then ‘Morvern Callar’ in 2002. In Ramsay’s films, clever sound design, unusual perspectives, upended music choices and offbeat stories combine to offer a unique view of the world.
4. Its use of music and sound is mesmerising
The soundtracks to Ramsay’s films are artworks in themselves. Here, the score is by the mighty Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead (whose music was last heard in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’), and it’s a blinder: powerful, uncomfortable and entirely fitting with the story in hand. There are teasing, bold uses of songs too: ‘Angel Baby’ during a violent set piece; and Charlene’s ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ as two characters hold hands in a pool of blood.
5. It has to be seen on the big screen
This is total cinema that’s best experienced on a very big screen: the sound, the images, the storytelling and the performances are all working in such immaculate harmony that you’ll want to see it large and hear it perfectly. It’s an unusual film, and that’s what makes it so great. Ramsay, working so closely with Phoenix, has taken the crime genre and remodelled it as something compelling, personal and exhilarating.
‘You Were Never Really Here’ opens Fri Mar 9.