Prior to watching Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, I came across one short comment on Letterboxd in which the person noted that it was like an artistic version of Pierre Morel’s Taken. To an extent, that is true. Yes, Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Joe, has a particular set of skills, and, yes, his character tries to rescue young girls from sex traffickers. But as I was watching You Were Never Really Here, I came to the realization that it is more of a hybrid between Taken and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It’s a slow-burning thriller that intrigues its audience by giving them some deep character study and then suddenly shocks them with its grisly violence.
Ramsay doesn’t treat viewers to scene upon scene of Joe killing bad guys with all sorts of different methods. There’s really only one way Joe likes to take out the sexual predators - and that is with a ball peen hammer. But You Were Never Really Here is more about the damaged psyche of a man with a brutal job than it is about the jobs he fulfills. There’s very little exposition, and most of the back story revolving around Joe is shown through fragmented flashbacks. We’re planted inside Joe’s mind, as he has to go through his everyday life from taking care of his ailing mother to suffering from PTSD. Some of his traumatizing flashbacks consist of his time in the Gulf War, or during his childhood, when he had an abusive father. It’s these more quiet moments that show how tremendous Phoenix is in the role. His character is damaged and lonely, having no one other than his mother to go home to. And that’s not always a pleasant experience.
This method Ramsay uses of showing the viewer what kind of person Joe is, rather than explaining every detail through dialogue, makes for an uncomfortable but also unforgettable viewing. His flashbacks and nightmares come without any notice and are effective every time.
You Were Never Really Here has a simplistic, bare bones plot that is fitting for this type of movie. Ramsay doesn’t try to complicate things by inserting numerous subplots or an overabundance of characters into the script. It concerns of a job Joe is assigned, involving the rescue of a politician’s daughter (Ekatarina Samsonov), and how his attempt at saving her leads him to darker corners of New York he least expected. That’s a pretty generic summarization, but it’s also the best way to describe it without getting into too many spoilers. There is a lot more beyond that for the viewer to behold, and it’s all quite mesmerizing.
The Blu-ray consists of a 1080p High Definition with a 16x9 widescreen presentation and a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Each frame shows Tom Townend’s gritty cinematography wonderfully, with no transfer issues to note. The sound is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, capturing the sounds of every gun shot or hammer to the skull effectively. It should also be noted that Jonny Greenwood’s score sounds excellent on a great sound system.
The downside to the Blu-ray of You Were Never Really Here is that there are no special features, aside from a few trailers for Amazon Studios-released pictures. Interestingly enough, one is for Manchester by the Sea, and it fails to mention the Oscars it won. Obviously, the trailer was created prior to the ceremony, but one would expect an update for a 2018 movie releasing to Blu-ray.
You Were Never Really Here takes its time to get to where it’s going, but it pays off quite well in the end. It’s a dark and disturbing picture, with just a little bit of morbid humor splashed in throughout, especially during the final scene. Phoenix is tremendous, as is everyone else involved. Although the Blu-ray lacks in extras, the movie itself is worth a purchase.