You Were Never Really Here

This is the fourth film Scotland’s Lynne Ramsay has made. I’ve only seen one previously, the interesting but inconsistent We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly).

When I glanced on Rotten Tomatoes, it seemed 75% of the critics compared this movie to Taxi Driver. Okay, that has Robert De Niro trying to save an underage prostitute, but the comparisons stop there. I thought more of A History of Violence with how violent this was, and the fact that it deals with a hitman that can take on numerous people (with nothing more than a hammer), and leave them in a bloody mess on the floor. This film is based on the novella by Jonathan Ames.

Joaquin Phoenix looks perfect for the part. He’s a mix of muscle and flab, and scars (both physically and mentally). I thought about how odd it was he played Mel Gibson’s brother in Signs, and now with the huge shaggy beard, he looks like Gibson.

He’s a hitman (I think; or perhaps a guy that rescues young girls from sex rings…it’s never really clear). He’s dealing with PTSD from his time in the military, and perhaps another job we’re not clear about (border patrol, cop, we’re never really sure, because Ramsay likes to be abstract). He also spent his childhood hiding from his dad, who routinely beat his mom. Joe lives with his mom (Judith Roberts), and they have a few interesting conversations and a seemingly decent relationship.Sometimes when Joe shoots somebody or hits them with his trusty hammer (his weapon of choice), we’ll get a quick flashback into something from his past. Other times, he’s innocently taking a photo of some Asian girls that stopped him on a street corner, and he’s troubled by an image of a bunch of dead girls he found. Not sure if it was sex trafficking, or illegal immigrants.

The movie shows you a handful of things that never really make sense and are never really explained. Apparently Ramsay is a director that values style over substance. Unfortunately, she over-directs this whole thing, making it a pretentious mess.

There are also a number of inconsistencies. For example, Joe is so strict about not wanting to be seen by anyone that…when he picks up his payment from jobs at a local market, the owner of the store can’t have his son around. When his son is stocking a shelf and sees him, Joe tells him they can’t do business anymore. Okay, that’s fine, but…why does he then show up at his boss’s office later in the movie to discuss his latest job? If he can just waltz into his boss’s office, why not pick up the money there instead of from a third party? A similar thing bothered me in Baby Driver. And why when we hear the job from the boss do we immediately know it’s a set-up? So much of the movie is predictable.

Anyway, that next job is $50,000 for him to pick up a senator’s missing 13-year-old daughter.

At one point, I wondered if Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) had done the score. It sounded similar to There Will Be Blood but more chaotic. He did, in fact, give us this harsh score.

A few times the movie was hard to follow. The violence also felt a tad gratuitous, but the art house crowd is going to eat up this garbage.

My wife, often the voice of reason during these movie screenings, brought up the fact that this underage sex ring was rather elaborate. She wondered how there could be such a large sub-set of men involved that Joe has to deal with.

I would’ve liked more of Joe’s backstory. It’s also interesting that a guy who is tormented by all the violence he’s witnessed over the years, is doing this as a vocation. More insight into his methods would’ve been interesting, too.

For all the praise Ramsay gets as a filmmaker, she sure covers a lot of the tropes (fake suicide for shock value, weighing a dead body into a lake, to name two things).

This is basically…a minimalist mess.

The premise is preposterous, and even the few good fights scenes…were often ruined by goofiness (an example being Joe holding hands on the floor with the dying guy he just shot, as they harmonize to a song on the radio).

1 ½ stars out of 5.