A traumatised veteran (played by Joaquin Phoenix), 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.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is billed as a drama mystery thriller. When reading the synopsis above, you may be thinking of something like Liam Neeson in the Taken series of movies. But it’s nothing like them. What makes YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE so good is that it is less about the actual story and more about what is going on inside the head of Joe.
Phoenix is brilliant in this role and the movie is worth seeing just for his performance. The premise of the movie about someone rescuing a missing girl is pretty common. But, Lynne Ramsay (who wrote and directed this movie and who also brought us We Need to Talk About Kevin — another great movie — uses camera and sound techniques to give us a sense of the disconnection that Joe feels from what is going on around him.
It’s a violent film but we rarely actually see the violence itself — more often we “see” it microseconds after it occurs. But that seems to give it more potency and is no less confronting than watching it directly.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is not an easy movie to watch and is perhaps a bit too fragmented making it sometimes a bit hard to follow. But it is a powerful exploration of the way in which past psychological trauma and abuse can completely screw up a person’s life. It is different and pulls no punches.