You Were Never Really Here (2017)

LYNNE RAMSAY

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.  United Kingdom/France/USA, 2017.  Why Not Productions, Film4, British Film Institute Production Board.  Screenplay by Lynne Ramsay, based on the book by Jonathan Ames.  Cinematography by Thomas Townend.  Produced by Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Rebecca O’Brien, Lynne Ramsay, James Wilson.  usic by Jonny Greenwood.  Production Design by Tim Grimes.  Costume Design by Malgosia Turzanska.  Film Editing by Joe Bini.  Cannes Film Festival 2017.  

Burly, bearded Joaquin Phoenix is a veteran who prowls the streets of Manhattan by night a hired thug, then takes care of his aging, ailing mother by day.  An assignment comes up that is more sensitive than usual, a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped by a child sex slave ring and he needs to rescue her from their clutches, which he does with his usual violent ease.  Reprisals are almost immediate and the young woman is taken away from him, a bloodbath ensues and he goes in search of her whereabouts, constantly flashing back to painful memories of the past (an abusive father, trauma on the battlefield).  Expressive, rich photography and strong performances highlight a film that shows director Lynne Ramsay achieving some of her best visuals yet, telling vast amounts of plot in masterful editing and framing shorthand, but her script adaptation lacks meat.  It’s wonderful to see a revenge story that doesn’t fetishize violence, most of the goriest acts happen off screen, but in doing her best to avoid the kind of self-righteous vigilante passion that these movies usually indulge in, Ramsay forgets to have a middle act.  We go from set up to solution far too quickly, and whatever relationship was meant to build up between the rescuer and his charge never really happens thanks to a lead character who never learns or changes.  The lack of mystery to most of the characters dampens the enigmas in the story itself, but there are a lot of great moments to it and it is certainly not boring.

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