Joaquin Phoenix is a phenomenal actor, but his choices of roles lately tend to be odd loners in strange situations (Inherent Vice, The Master, Her, to name just a few)) You Were Never Really Here continues that trend. It’s a very arty film that some have compared to Taxi Driver, with Phoenix playing Joe, a hired gun (or hammer, his weapon of choice) who specializes in tracking down missing and sex trafficked girls. He’s got a lot of personal demons that intrude on his life, but he’s good at the job. But when his latest assignment goes sideways, and he’s surrounded by violence and death, nearly dragged down by it, he keeps himself going by thinking of the missing little girl. It’s grizzly.
The girl he’s looking for is the 13-year-old daughter of a NY senator, so the job is hush-hush. But once he finds the girl in a heavily fortified high-class brownstone, she’s almost immediately snatched by some NY cops who shoot Joe in the face, and though he gets away, everyone he knows is on a hit list. And as he runs around town with a target on his back and discovers the bodies of friends and family one by one, he’s still focused of the girl and moving towards rescuing her. And it turns out the pedophile conspiracy reaches to a much higher level.
The film is gorgeously shot, though how pretty can a hammer to the head really be? And Joaquin is his usual immersive self, reveling in Joe’s demons. But it is slow in parts and très arty. It won best actor and screenplay at Cannes, so you know the sensibility. The film was adapted and directed by Lynne Ramsay who also brought us the super-creepy We Need to Talk About Kevin. Seems she likes unpleasant subject matter. Do not see this if you don’t like bloody violence, or leisurely paced action films. It’s only Joaquin’s performance that keeps you there. As action films go, you’ve seen it before, and done better.