THREE AND A HALF STARS A war veteran rescues kids from traffickers. Violence follows insanity close behind.
Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts
Take a walk on the dark side as Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) tracks down missing girls. Inevitably, the reason they’re missing puts him in the firing line of people who want to keep them lost. But Joe is a veteran whose PTSD leaves him perfectly equipped to deal with the villains, and tidy up afterwards.
This is a nasty film. Nothing about child sex trafficking could be otherwise, and director Lynne Ramsay (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) doesn’t shy away from what needs to be said. Her boundless energy creates a wonderfully expressionist film that is not only a tightly wound thriller but a disturbing meld of nervous grief and gore. Which is to say, it gets nasty.
She navigates through Joe’s shuffling, hallucinatory view of the world without loosing grip of us, or the story (although there are many times you wish she did so you could run for the door). This is such a unique sensory experience that it would be easy to become abandoned in Joe’s world, and that’s no place for anyone.
Ramsay is known for the clarity of her viewpoint, something that can’t always be levelled at this film. As it begins to make some sense, we’re suddenly plunged into the sickening violence of Joe’s life, a rollercoaster of clarity and confusion that is compounded by Phoenix’s fearsome anti-hero and a gruff, mumbly voice that underscores his trauma (although it would have even helpful to understand what he said, just once).
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is almost experimental in tone which, oddly, provides some relief from the punishing alt-Scorcese violence. In Phoenix Ramsay found the ideal vehicle (mumbling aside), an actor who utterly realises a character so beaten by the world he’s decided to hit back: Joe and Joaquin are disturbingly well matched. If the purpose of this film might be scantly realised (bad people deserve to die?), the delivery is not, one that threatens to plunge us all into a new kind of hell - as nasty so often does.