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The Yorker at LIFF 31: You Were Never Really Here

The Fanomenon strand of LIFF 31 closed with Lynne Ramsay’s latest film You Were Never Really Here. Adapted from Jonathan Ames novella and starring Joaquin Phoenix, the film premiered at Cannes where it won the Best Screenplay award (shared with The Killing of a Sacred Deerand Phoenix won Best Actor. The film follows Joe, a gun for hire who is tasked with rescuing a little girl from a paedophile ring and the fallout from this. 

This film is not for everyone. It takes a story which has the possibility of broad appeal but moves it in a thoughtful and distinctly original direction. Much has been made of it’s similarities to Taxi Driver but in reality it takes that idea and approaches it in a very different way. Joe is not the remorseless killer he seems to be, he is motivated exclusively by remorse and guilt which gives him a sensitivity that is unusual in this type of film.

The way in which Ramsay depicts violence on screen is also fascinating. People die fairly regularly in the film at Joe’s and other characters’ hands but Ramsay rarely lets the viewer engage with or enjoy the violence. She brilliantly disconnects us from the carnage and makes a revenge film without the visceral action they usually contain.

Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Joe and makes it clear why Ramsay wrote the film with him in mind. His unconventional looks, paired with his brooding intensity makes him a formidable presence. However, Phoenix brings an incredible sensitivity and heart to his role and makes Joe a three dimensional character that you can root for and engage with. Phoenix has given brilliant performances in the past, but this is a career best for him.

You Were Never Really Here is a brilliant art film with a engaging plot and a incredible central performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Lynne Ramsay has crafted a unique and challenging film that discusses our obsession with violence and vigilantism without glamorizing it. Her realistic approach to certain scenes contrasts beautifully with some of the more surreal elements of the film and never lets up on the tension. Phoenix is sure to be a contender in the Academy Award race and this is certainly one to watch.

Our LIFF 31 coverage wraps up with Martin McDonagh’s remarkable Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri. 

You Were Never Really Here was screening as part of LIFF 31. Image Source: festival-cannes.com