You Were Never Really Here
Stars: Joaquim Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, Allesandro Nivola
It’s been six long years since Scottish director Ramsay’s last picture, the fascinating but flawed We Need to Talk about Kevin. This adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s short story, a mesmerising combination of a B movie remix of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and impressionistic cinematic tone poem, is arguably her best since feature debut, Ratcatcher. Phoenix is Joe, a grizzled hitman who lives with his ageing mother (Roberts) in a pokey apartment in New York’s outer boroughs. Ramsay economically illustrates their affectionate relationship through lovely telling moments. Haunted by memories of a traumatic incident when he was serving overseas (in Iraq or Afghanistan) as well as the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, Joe is a pill-popping mess, given to bouts of self-asphyxiation. He is enlisted by a high-ranking senator to rescue his pre-teen daughter Nina (Samsonov) and to punish severely her kidnappers. While carrying out his mission, Joe discovers what may be a kindred spirit. A precis does not really convey the elliptical style of the picture in which most of the information is provided through vivid images and soundtrack cues. Ramsay showcases her ability to conjure poetry out of the most prosaic (or grim) situations and objects, and the director’s, at times, oblique style proves ideally suited to conveying Joe’s state of mind. Phoenix is typically fearless, and the brutal violence is tempered with some drolly surreal humour, most notably in a sequence in which Joe sits with one of his dying victims and they sing along to Charlene’s MOR hit I’ve Never Been to Me.