Movie ReviewsYou Were Never Really Here – A Brutal Character Study

Keith NoakesApril 18, 2018

Damn, Joaquin Phoenix!

Synopsis: A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening. (Elevation Pictures)

Starring: Joaquin PhoenixJudith Roberts, and Ekaterina Samsonov

Writer: Lynne Ramsay

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 89mins


For showtimes and more, check out You Were Never Really Here on

This film made major waves starting at last year’s Cannes Film Festival with star Joaquin Phoenix winning the festival’s Best Actor award and writer/director Lynn Ramsey winning the Best Screenplay Award. Both definitely delivered here but this film won’t be for everybody. It’s also a relatively short film, clocking it at under 90 minutes, that goes straight to the story and is done before you know it. As a result, the film perhaps lacks some depth. The film focused on a man named Joe (Phoenix), a former soldier and FBI agent and now a hired gun specialized in rescuing trafficked girls.

What was special about Joe was that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout the film, there were many vague visions of his troubled past. It wasn’t always clear what was real and wasn’t but it was clear that he had a tough life. Joe was compelling to watch as he tried to hold himself together despite not always knowing where he stood as he straddled the line between life and death. His latest mission was to rescue Nina (Samsonov), the young daughter of a Senator (Alex Manette). In accepting this mission, Joe would find himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy. Regardless of how he may feel, he was dedicated to Nina and his ailing mother (Judith Roberts).

The way that Joe dealt with his problems was violence, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. This meant that the film did get brutal at times but it never felt out of place. The film was also shot in a unique way that some will surely find too artsy, however, it fit with what the film was trying to be. There were countless beautiful shots here although a few were a little too dark. The excellently uneven score was just as beautiful, also fitting the story and the lead character.

Joe was more about actions than words so the dialog may test viewers’ patience but Pheonix’s adept facial expressions and body language spoke louder than any words. He was exceptional as the emotionally destroyed man taking his revenge on all those who have wronged him. He applied this to Nina as they shared some sort of a connection. He was compelling to watch but the lack of depth didn’t make the end as impactful as it could have been. The short running time was most evident during the abrupt ending.

Overall, this was an excellent character study that was suspenseful to watch and made better with a smart script, great direction, and an exceptional performance by Joaquin Phoenix but whose style and story may not be for everyone.

Score: 9.5/10

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  • Tony Briley

    April 18, 2018 at 9:51 PM

    This looks awesome and is on my must-see list. Joaquin Phoenix hasn’t seemed so awesome since he was Max California in 8mm (1999). Oddly, almost 20 years later, the plots are eerily similar on the surface and he seems to shine again. Thanks for the great review, and looking at this score I’ll keep it on my list. And maybe if I’m lucky I’ll have a new quote on some of my profiles to replace “If you dance with the devil, the devil don’t change. The devil changes you”.

    • Keith Noakes

      April 18, 2018 at 9:53 PM

      They are much different movies but I still prefer his performance in Her.

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