You Were Never Really Here

First Hit: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

It isn’t easy to summarize this film except to say, its odd pace had me both engaged and patiently waiting for what would be next.

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) erases problems and he’s got his own problems. He’s taking care of his aging, somewhat helpless mother, his job is that he finds and kills people, and he’s haunted by his military service overseas. The latter coming to him in flashes.

In the opening sequence, we see Joe completing a job. As the camera pans across what he’s cleaning up, we know enough that when he goes to the hardware store, he’s preparing to do some graphic damage to someone. His favorite tool is a hammer.

Accepting a new job, he’s been asked to find Senator Albert Votto’s (Alex Manette) daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). The senator believes she’s been taken and housed by a group that uses her as an underage sex worker. All he has is an address.

He stakes out the building and see’s that it is a high-end prostitution ring and that Nina is just one of many of the underage girls being used by wealthy men.

As the story unfolds, it gets complicated quickly because after rescuing Nina, she gets stolen from him. The story turns because Joe's vested into helping Nina.

The rest of the film is about him finding  who stole Nina, where Nina is, who killed his mother, and settling the score.

All through this, the action comes in spurts, the flashbacks of Joe’s young life and his overseas service come at odd moments, and the quiet intensity of Joe permeates this story. His match is Nina. Her almost soulless stares, acceptance of what her path is, and the way she fixes it make them an odd pair.

Many of the shots in this film are reminiscence of some of the best Martin Scorsese shots in Taxi Driver. In ways this is a film that uses that story, a twisted older man helping a young girl, to deepen and create mixed feelings about the characters.

Phoenix is darkly effective. There is no way anyone would want to cross him and it shows in virtually every scene. His portrayal of being affected by his upbringing and service overseas worked. Samsonov is a revelation. She makes this film have a depth it would not have had without her almost soulless stares. Manette is good as the twisted senator. Judith Roberts, as Joe’s mother is wonderful. Her portrayal of a woman who is forgetful and dependent on Joe were perfect. Lynne Ramsay wrote and directed this dark complex film. The use of flashbacks was, at times, overly done and too brief to create enough context to understand. However, the use of Phoenix as the main character was perfect.

Overall: This dark complex slowly paced film borders on overdoing itself, but the actors made it stay with me afterward.