Saturday, April 21, 2018


So often revenge movies pretend to deal with its subject’s immoral consequences while dutifully revealing pleasure in action, action, action. It’s often self-defeating, albeit with a sick gratification as a kick of gore or a squib of blood acts as catharsis the movie might later have us question, however feebly. In the case of Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, though, it’s all consequences. She presents a typically grim and determined tale of a sad man of violence trudging his depressed mind, wounded soul, and lumbering body into an act of righteous chaos – saving a Senator’s daughter from a sex trafficking ring. However, we are spared the gory details, the explicit nastiness, the violence perpetrated to and on behalf of victims. It all happens off screen. The dripping wounds are seen only after the damage has been done. The centerpiece is the man (Joaquin Phoenix), a blunt force instrument whose shaggy beard, deliberate gait, and shlubby dress indicates a more normcore than hardcore action hero, proceeding through the villain’s lair room by room, hammer in hand. The camera cuts, fracturing the diegetic soundtrack as the view changes from one security camera-style angle to another, the bludgeoning already in progress if not finished. An anonymous threatening man is mostly or completely crumpled on the floor and out of the corner of the eye you can spy our protagonist slumping his way to the next obstacle.

Ramsey’s project of subjective interiority – voiced earlier with the child’s eye miserabilist whimsy in Ratcatcher and sorrowful red jolts of maternal nostalgia blending into trauma in We Need to Talk About Kevin – finds perhaps its finest expression here. Her loose adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ slim novel of the same name is a story about hurt people hurting people, as a haunted and wounded soul finds what little meaning he can in his off-the-books thuggish private investigator jobs. He can break skulls better than he can repair hearts, or his own mind. Ramsey sticks closely to his perspective, pinning him into precise frames of methodical routines, and intuitive flash frames of flashbacks jangling sparse evocative backstory of an abusive childhood (his elderly, ailing mother (Judith Roberts), similarly abused, lingers with him still) and vague military deployment overseas. Jonny Greenwood’s droning score filtering through the impressionistic, swirling sound design matches Thomas Townend’s cinematography of grainy glossy surfaces chopped into slices and fragments by Joe Bini’s deliberate, artful edits. At the center of it all is Phoenix’s taciturn bear of a performance, a grit-the-teeth determination with sunken, distant gaze and pained expression. He wears the burdens of his life’s trauma on his slumped shoulders. Even if and when the rescue of the angelically delicate lost girl (Ekaterina Samsonov) is within his reach, his sadness isn’t lifting any time soon. He moves through noir-ish developments as if underwater, the film's style treating him like Lee Marvin in Point Blank if he were a scraggly depressive. The picture as a whole casts this spell, a sort of artful pulp burned down to its bones that threatens to feel slight, but instead lingers like a hazy cold.

No comments:

Post a Comment