★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
Lynne Ramsay is one of the most uncompromising voices in cinema today. With her filmography, especially her 2011 psychological horror-thriller We Need to Talk about Kevin, Ramsay has proven her status as a director with the ability to disturb & engage narratively, visually, & through sound design, while telling a story so well with minimal dialogue & exposition.
You Were Never Really Here further shows her power as a director, & ends up making me more tense than any other film I've ever seen. Based on the 2013 novella of the same name by Jonathan Ames, the film follows Joe (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran & ex-FBI agent. Haunted by memories of his past in the military & as an FBI agent, along with his abusive childhood, & becoming suicidal as a result of PTSD, Joe spends his days caring for his mother (played by Judith Roberts), rescuing girls from sex trafficking, or waiting for a new rescue operation from his handler, John McCleary (played by John McCleary) or their middleman, Angel (played by Frank Pando).
One day, Joe receives a new job from McCleary. New York State Senator Albert Votto (played by Alex Manette), a friend of & campaigner for Governor Williams (played by Alessandro Nivola), has offered a large amount of money to rescue his daughter, Nina (played by Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been abducted. He received a tip through a text with an address: 235 East 81st Street. Votto has asked Joe to rescue Nina because of his reputation for brutality, using a hammer for his jobs. Joe takes the job. But Joe eventually finds himself in a web of lies & corruption as he goes further into the rescue operation.
The cast is superb. Joaquin Phoenix easily gives the best performance of a career, in one of the best performances of the century, cementing himself as one of the finest actors in the history of cinema. Phoenix brings so much raw emotion, both external & internal, to the performance, & I truly believe that there won't be a better performance this year. He won the Best Actor Award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for his performance, & he definitely deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actor, if he gets nominated.
Ekaterina Samsonov is a complete revelation. Samsonov, whose only other role of note was a minor role in 2017's Wonderstruck, also does a tremendous job here. Like Phoenix's character, Samsonov's character is forced to grow up quickly because of her emotional & psychological trauma. And even without much dialogue, Samsonov portrays it so excellently.
Lynne Ramsay's direction is phenomenal. Ramsay is at her best here, shocking us & disturbing us with such sheer brutality at every second, never allowing us to breathe until the credits roll. Furthermore, she's more interested in the psyche of Phoenix's character rather than the acts he commits, unlike most thriller directors, showing his acts from a distance (although when violence is shown in the film, it is shocking). If this doesn't cement Ramsay as one of the best directors in film today in the eyes of cinephiles, then I don't know what will. But it has for me.
Lynne Ramsay's screenplay is brilliant. Like her other adaptations of novels, Ramsay doesn't go for sticking to the script, instead focusing more on telling the story through visuals & sound. But her storytelling is phenomenal, as she is able to tell so much with so little. It's no surprise she won Best Screenplay at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for this.
Thomas Townend's cinematography is stellar. Townend's camerawork is buoyed by tracking shots, a dark color palette, & some truly excellent lighting.
Joe Bini's editing is some of the best in years. Bini uses so many quick cuts that feel so visceral, like massive gut-punches. Also, the pacing is so amazing, making the film's 89-minute runtime go by so fast, & heightening the tension every second. It would be a crime if he doesn't at least get an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.
The sound design is incredible. The loud sounds of Joe's day-to-day life, like the trains rustling by on the tracks, & the hustle & bustle of the New York traffic, mirror Joe's internal struggles. And this is one of the biggest standouts in a film full of standout pieces.
And Jonny Greenwood's score is the best of his career. Greenwood, known for his role as the lead guitarist for Radiohead, & a recent Oscar nominee for his beautiful work on Phantom Thread, has managed to top himself with every score he's ever done. Powered by a mix of ambient synths, powerful violins, & a cacophonous guitar, Greenwood not only adds to the tense atmosphere of the film, but also mirrors Joe's internal struggles, going hand-in-hand with the sound design.
This is not only the best film of the year so far, but one of the best films of the past 20 years. Powered by phenomenal performances from Joaquin Phoenix & Ekaterina Samsonov, stellar direction from Lynne Ramsay, brilliant editing, impeccable sound design & one of the best scores ever from Jonny Greenwood, this is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word, ranking with some of the best neo-noir psychological thrillers ever, such as Taxi Driver, Drive & Zodiac. May this film win all the awards it is sure to receive.
You Were Never Really Here was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, April 20, 2018. It is currently showing in 1 theater in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; it will expand to more theaters starting Friday, April 27, 2018. Its runtime is 89 minutes, & it is rated R for strong violence, disturbing & grisly images, language, & brief nudity.