Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a remarkable novella published in the UK by Pushkin Press. As a chronic consumer of hardboiled fiction, Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here was the junkie’s fix I didn’t know I needed so bad.
Impressing me greatly with its brutal efficiency, the book combined the gritty action, tight plot and sardonic tone that the likes of Westlake, Hammett and Chandler made their bones with. And now there’s a film adaptation from We Need to Talk About Kevin director Lynne Ramsay with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role.
Phoenix channels his 1970s De Niro to blistering effect as tortured anti-hero Joe – a former FBI agent haunted by tragedy in his personal and professional life. Now operating as a strong-arm gun for hire, Joe is given the grim task of rescuing a young girl (Ekaterina Samsonov) from a sex ring but, as with every good hardboiled mystery, it’s not that simple.
You can expect some twists in the plot which are dramatically invigorating but more exciting than those are all the internal contortions that swirl around the narrative like vultures. As with Paul Schrader’s tonally similar Hardcore, every character here is either flawed or damaged or both.
Ramsey’s direction, much like Scorsese’s work in Taxi Driver, brilliantly navigates the off-kilter descent from indifference to turmoil, notching up the tension and brutality to stomach-churning effect. Phoenix makes for a mesmerising tour-guide of sin and repression, his character all too familiar with the alluring vortex of violence (his weapon of choice – a hammer – is actually a tool), while Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (a recent Oscar nominee for his score to Phantom Thread) crafts an intense soundtrack that accentuates the hits and swings with eerie aplomb.
Fusing old school grit with contemporary cloth, You Were Never Really Here emerges from an acid trip to the cutting room as one of the most remarkable films of this generation. Be warned: to intently watch Phoenix unravel is to set yourself up for some collateral damage. While you rarely see the violence, you definitely feel its aftermath. And that’s what the story is about – damage. You Were Never Really Here hits you like a hammer.
Make a point of checking out this great film and also be sure read the fantastic source novel too (after scanning my review of it here!)