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Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) does a job no one else will: a war vet and ex-FBI agent turned hit-man, his new line of work includes rescuing children from paedophile rings. The confronting task takes a considerable psychological toll but that's just one of his worries after he's hired to save senator Albert Votto's (Alex Manette) 14 year old daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). When the situation goes south, the duo are soon entangled in an unrelenting conspiracy of corruption, violence and abuse.

Review by Louise Keller:
I will never forget the scene in Lynne Ramsey's 2011 mystery thriller, We Need to Talk About Kevin, when Tilda Swinton's opens the door to two suited strangers who ask her if she knows where she is going in the after life. 'Yes, I do,' she retorts: 'I'm going straight to hell.' After all hell is where this mother of a nihilistic teenage son who went on a killing spree has been living... Similarly, in Ramsey's psychological drama You Were Never Really Here, Joachim Phoenix's protagonist Joe is living in pain.

Tough and uncompromising, this is an extraordinary film in which stillness counters bloody violence and unconscionable themes. While the story lines are driven by action, the heart of the film is internal and this paradoxical juxtaposition is enhanced by Ramsey's use of edgy camera work, minimal dialogue and a screaming soundscape that melds with a score that changes from the disturbing to the reassuringly melodic. The sound mix also plays a part, the background often taking prominence over the dialogue. The film leaps from the present to the past as well as the possible future. The maybe. The underwater image of the young girl at the focus of the rescue mission as she rises to the surface is Joe's incentive to keep living. He knows that without him, she will not survive. But then, the question arises: will he survive?

With his unflinching gaze and replete with inner torment, Phoenix delivers an intense and powerhouse of a performance as the damaged savior of children captive in pedophile rings, who shows disdain and respect for life - equally. He draws us into his soul. It is a dark soul where death and asphyxiation is a running theme. He admits to Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), who hires him to rescue his pre-teen daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov, appealing), that he can be brutal. He leaves us with no doubt that this is so. His gentleness in all his dealings with his ailing, elderly mother (Judith Roberts, vulnerable) reveal another side.

Adapted from Jonathan Ames' novel, the focus of the narrative is on the man and not the killings that take place in a variety of brutal situations. When Joe yells down the phone: 'What is going on?' I felt as though I knew exactly what he meant. It takes a while to understand what is happening; what are the flashbacks to Joe's younger self; who are the personalities?' where do they all fit in? And when it comes to the girl to be rescued: who will rescue whom?

There are many memorable scenes. I will select two. The first is one in which Phoenix lies on the floor next to a killer who has done the unthinkable. He takes the dying man's hand and together they sing a few bars of Charlene's hit song, I've Never Been To Me. The other is in a diner, where he sits alone. Two tears roll down his cheek before he makes a decision.

My heart was pounding throughout this intense psychological experience. A unique, disturbing film that is simply unforgettable.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Edgy, stylised, surprising, peppered with on and off screen brutal violence, intriguing and intense, frequent jump cuts and musical stabs, this is the work of a filmmaker whose excesses are adornments to her work. Lynne Ramsay uses the language of cinema so adroitly that we can hardly imagine this was originally a book.

War veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) clearly suffers from some sort of post traumatic stress disorder, given the nature of the old demons that pop up and his ever unbalanced state of mind provides the film its ongoing motif - and its cinematic fizz. Phoenix gives this role his all, immersing himself (even literally in an extraordinary burial) for a haunting characterisation.

The story is only a skeleton on which this film is fleshed out as a drama; the bare bones are almost trite, a pulp fiction in which not only are the baddies corrupt, they are high profile politicians to boot. But Ramsay stays away from them to a large extent, steering the camera's all seeing eye to the dark recesses of Joe's inner self. She even steers the camera away from much of the violence, letting us see only the immediate aftermath, as the camera glides past the bodies.

Jonny Greenwood's score is as bold and inventive as Ramsay's direction, from sharp stabs to melodic waves. Note the source music, anodyne songs that creep us out in the creepy context in which they are used. Here is a film we haven't seen before, on a subject that we have.

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(US, 2017)

CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, Dante Pereira-Olson, Vinicius Damasceno, Frank Pando, Alex Manette, John Doman

PRODUCER: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Rebecca O'Brien, Lynne Ramsay, James Wilson

DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsay

SCRIPT: Lynne Ramsay (book by Jonathan Ames)


EDITOR: Joe Bini

MUSIC: Jonny Greenwood


RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 6, 2018

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