Mar 11, 2018

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

'What follows is not really a thriller, any more than a Francis Bacon painted   society portraits. Adapted from Jonathan Ames book, it does to Liam Neeson revenge-flicks roughly what Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver did to the Death Wish movies: it breaks the genre up and boils it down to a lean 85 minutes, driven by a central performance by Phoenix as bruised and bloody and tender as sirloin. If the test of great acting is to make it physically impossible to imagine the actor in any other role than the one you were watching, then Phoenix here nuzzles up to the greats. He acts with his entire body, the way the silent movie actors used to, starting with his shoulders, hunched like a grave-digger’s, and moving down a white, pudgy paunch, lacerated with scars and slack with self-neglect, as if the harm he doles out to others is just overflow from the harm he dishes out to himself. Some actors make you worry for what they will do to others. Dangling himself idly from a train platform, Phoenix makes you worried for what he will do to himself.  Sometimes suicidal is more dangerous that homicidal. The performance is, in other words, everything Ryan Gosling thought his was in Drive and wasn’t. The violence, when it comes, is almost a relief from from the twitchy flashbacks— images of asphyxiation from to Joe’s childhood, and his experience in the Gulf war — that assail him like panic attacks. Ramsay’s powers of obliquity come into their during Joe’s one-man invasion of a brothel, shot and edited using only grey security cam footage showing Joe’s path: a door opens on one floor, a hammer  blurs in the corridor of another, a body crumples in a third and so on, all to the sound of Rosie & the Originals ‘Angel Baby’ on the soundtrack, interrupted with every cut. What Ramsay seems to understand as perhaps no filmmaker has since John Boorman in Point Break,   is that what makes violence violent is not physics it’s internal thermodynamics: the damage done to souls not bodies. It’s a film about damage.'— from my Sunday Times review


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