The Scottish film maker Lynne Ramsey has produced a violent and nightmare world in her latest feature You Were Never Really Here. It is a world inhabited by Joe ( Joaquin Phoenix) a traumatised veteran haunted by the fleeting memories of childhood abuse and sickening battle field trauma. He is a lumpy , pain filled mess of a man who earns his daily bread by being a hired gun, a hit man, a killer, but he is a killer who comes home to an elderly frail mother ( nicely played by Judith Roberts) a relationship of his which has retained its warmth and humanity.
Joe has a death wish. We glimpse his inner pain through little moments of despair, a look over the high rail of a railway station, a revisited childhood moment in a closet where a plastic bag over the head shuts out his father's wrath, but the bond with his mother keeps him going, until his latest " hit" drags him into the dark world of child prostitution.
He is hired by a local senator ( Alex Manette) to retrieve his fifteen year old daughter Nina( Ekaterina Sansonov)from a high class brothel and in the bloodbath that ensues, Joe has a chance for some sort of redemption amid the chaos.
This is a very violent and disturbing film which under Ramsey's flair for storytelling is at times an overwhelming bit of cinema. The cinematography drags you into Joe's haunted world where a sudden sound drags him back into childhood violence or a stranger on the street suddenly morphs into a terrified refugee. After one particularly bloody shoot out Joe lies down next to a dying assassin and holding hands they whisper the words of the song I've never been to me which is playing on the radio.
It's a surreal but terribly poignant little scene the likes of which are peppered unexpectedly throughout the film
Phoenix is impressive as Joe. He dominates the screen time with his overwhelming sadness and when at last there is a small glimmer of hope for him, he breaks your heart with his subtle, pained performance.
This film is not for the faint hearted, but it's worth a look if you are in the mood .9/10