Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
Joe is a veteran, and hired gun. He’s not a hit man, per se. But if you need a guy to beat someone up, or retrieve something or someone, he’s the one to do it. He doesn’t talk much, and is exceptionally brutal, preferring to use a hammer to accomplish his objectives. He is frequently haunted by nightmares from his time in combat, and can’t outrun the face of a young Asian woman, which often appears before him whenever he’s alone. Anyway, he is hired by a Senator to retrieve his daughter, who’s been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring. Joe does so, only to learn that the Senator has committed suicide, and that there may be more to this story than meets the eye. No surprises there.
You Were NEver Really Here is a gritty, urban thriller in the tradition of movies like Taxi Driver, and Drive. Like the former, it tells the story of a veteran who uses violence to save an under-aged girl from life as a prostitute, and, like the latter, the main character is an unhinged, hammer-wielding maniac who barely speaks. Also like Drive, this film prefers to do most of its storytelling visually. There’s barely any dialogue, and what little there is is often mumbled, and incoherent. For some people, tired of films where characters literally explain the plot, that will be refreshing. For individuals like myself, who are visually impaired, and often rely on that expository dialogue to understand what’s going on, it’ll be frustrating. Because I was often left uncertain as to what was happening, why it was happening, and who it was even happening to. And a large part of this didn’t even have to do with the lack of dialogue. It had to do with how the film was shot. Very often, the director, Lynne Ramasy, will shoot scenes entirely in close-up, or with the camera focused on unconventional subjects, like a lamp, a mirror, or someone’s foot. In some scenes, like when Joe is assaulting people, these choices make sense, since they allow Ramsay to not show us all the depravity that is taking place. In other scenes, however, like when we’re getting flashbacks of Joe’s time in Afghanistan, or when we’re learning about his past with this Asian girl, whose identity we never actually uncover, it would be nice if, on occasion, we got a wide shot to see what the hell was happening. With the Afghanistan flashbacks, for instance, all we ever see is a barbed wire fence, a person’s shoe, and the barrel of a gun. What does that mean? Why do these particular items have such relevance to Joe? I don’t know, and that’s not good.
Now, in case it sounds like I hated this movie, I didn’t. My feelings are actually pretty mixed. On the one hand, the acting, particularly from Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, is superb, and the lack of dialogue allows Ramsay to visually develop her characters. Throughout the film, for instance, we see aspects of Joe’s personality manifest through actions; digging through a pile of jelly beans to find the green ones, getting off by strangling himself, etc. If Ramsay had just had Joe tell us, “I like green jelly beans,” or “I get off by strangling myself,” it wouldn’t have been as interesting, and his character wouldn’t have felt as defined. Anyone can say they are a certain way. It’s only when we see them do stuff that we know who they are. So, in that respect, the lack of dialogue actually improved the storytelling. On the other hand, the fact that I didn’t know what was going on, partly because no one bothered to explain what was going on, and because the cinematography was either too close, or focused on the wrong subjects, made the film kind of impenetrable. I’m not lying when I say that I actually had to go read the wikipedia page for this movie to get a full sense for what I’d just watched. That’s not good. A film’s story should be clear as soon as you watch it. You shouldn’t have to go and do a bunch of reading afterward. So, in the end, do I think you should go see this movie. It depends on who you are. If you like artsy movies, thrillers, are tired of big blockbusters, or just want to support female filmmakers, give it a watch. If you like clarity in your stories, though, and aren’t a fan of mumbled, incoherent dialogue, this movie’s not for you. Make of this what you will.