Monday, January 29, 2018

Sundance with Abe: You Were Never Really Here

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

You Were Never Really Here
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Hitmen and assassins tend to be popular film subjects. For some reason, those hired to kill other people turn out to be complicated, worthwhile protagonists, at least on screen. A crisis of conscience is often involved as some target they are hired to take out conflicts with the moral code they have written for themselves, and some form of redemption, even if it precedes death, usually occurs before the end credits roll. Not all such films are created equally, and some contain a particular mark left by the filmmaker.

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is the definition of cool under pressure, rarely letting himself get disrupted in the middle of a job, thanks largely to the almost senseless wielding of his hammer that allows him to take out anyone who might get in his way as he seeks out whoever it is that he has been hired to kill. When he is hired to bring back a senator’s abducted daughter, he discovers a far darker web of evil that affects everyone he cares about in his life, sending him on the warpath to avenge those he has lost and free those innocent victims who still remain in danger.

This film makes considerably more sense in context, knowing that Ramsay’s previous feature was the deeply disturbing “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which told the story of a mother and her tempestuous relationship with her son, who kills a number of his classmates and family members. This film’s protagonist kills to make a living rather than because he feels compelled to by whatever demons exist within him, though it’s likely that Joe is driven in part by the feeling he gets from taking out the trash, which is what propels him fully once he comes to understand the horrific situation in which he finds himself.

Phoenix, the subject of a documentary called “I’m Still Here,” which has nothing to do with this film despite their similar titles, has delivered strong performances in the past and also stars in another Sundance entry this year, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Here, he shows that he’s a proper choice for the role, but the character isn’t as enticing as the film tries to convey. That goes for the film as a whole, which serves as a lackluster sibling of “Cold in July,” living in darkness and trying to find some light that can’t really guide it anywhere compelling.


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