Joaquin Phoenix tracks down missing girls in You Were Never Really Here


You Were Never Really Here is the latest film from director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and is a slow-burn thriller.

You Were Never Really Here is the latest film from director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and is a slow-burn thriller about a traumatized veteran suffering from PTSD who tracks down missing girls for a living. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Alex Manette (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Ekaterina Samsonov (Wonderstruck), Judith Roberts (Eraserhead), and Alessandro Nivola (Jurassic Park III).

Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a troubled veteran suffering from a severe case of PTSD. Between the balance of being a hired gun, fantasizing about suicide, and taking care of his elderly mother (Judith Roberts), Joe lives a life between harsh reality and a feverish dreamlike state. There is one thing that Joe is good at, though, and that’s in locating missing teenagers. When a New York senator (Alex Manette) reaches out after the disappearance of his 13-year-old daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), Joe’s whole world is shattered as tragedy unfolds in bloodshed and carnage, bringing him closer to the brink of insanity.

This past year, I finally had the chance to watch Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, and though this review isn’t about that film, I feel it’s important to bring it up because it sets the tone for what to expect with You Were Never Really Here. We Need to Talk About Kevin is soul-crushing and terrifying in its depiction of a mother witnessing her teen son morph into a sociopath before her eyes. That movie doesn’t end in optimism or happiness, it leaves you shaken and disturbed, and the same can be said about You Were Never Really Here. It’s a somber and devastating look into those suffering from trauma, PTSD, mental illness, and abuse of all kinds.

Joaquin Phoenix as Joe in YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE – from Amazon Studios

You Were Never Really Here is a film that’s mostly quiet in its execution, meaning that it doesn’t rely on gratuitous gore in hopes of covering up plot holes. This film is centered on the story as well as our main character Joe, as he spirals further and further down into the rabbit hole. He is no doubt a killer, a ruthless one at that, and much blood is shed in often brutal ways.

However, it never seems to threaten to overshadow the incredible performance from Phoenix and the superb writing from Ramsey, who drafted the screenplay based on the book by Jonathan Ames.  At times, it’s a hard film to watch, as it’s raw and palpable in its pain, but there is beauty as well. The tender moments from Joe, while taking care of his ailing mom, are vastly uplifting when compared to his vicious interactions with his enemies. He’s also disassociated and in an immense amount of emotional grief, doing his best to stuff it down through practiced suicide attempts and his never-ending quest for redemption.

Though the film doesn’t pack the guttural punch that We Need to Talk About Kevin did, this film still stayed with me long after its viewing. It’s one of those movies that curls itself around you without you even knowing, and stays embedded in your conscious long after it has ended.

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If anything, this movie has made me incredibly sad – sad for those who suffer from mental illness and aren’t receiving the proper help, to the cruel and vile things humanity is capable of doing in the dark shadowy corners of the world.  Lynne Ramsay once again proves that she can craft a story that is made to feel believable, if not slightly relatable, which is why I think this film was so impactful. Though not traditional horror, I believe You Were Never Really Here does a terrific job of showcasing how monstrous humans can be.

All in all, You Were Never Really Here is a well-crafted thriller that is oftentimes ruthless as it is heartbreaking. Joaquin Phoenix once again puts on a brilliant performance that is deserving of all the recognition he has received. If you are going into this film looking for an action-filled brutal slasher / revenge style movie, you’ll probably be disappointed as its slow-burn effects take time to build as it peels back each layer. Though the film left me feeling disheartened, that didn’t take away from the masterful writing and directing by Lynne Ramsay.

With all that said, I think it goes without saying that this is a film I’ll be recommending to people for many years to come.

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You Were Never Really Here is now available to own on Blu-ray (plus Digital) and DVD from Lionsgate.