AFTER A Terrence Malick like absence, one of Britain's finest directors, Lynne Ramsay, has a film back in the cinema, following up her 2011 masterpiece, We Need To Talk About Kevin, with another adaptation.
You Were Never Really Here is adapted from the Jonathan Ames' novella of the same name. It follows Joe, an ex-soldier with severe PTSD from both an abusive childhood and active combat in an unnamed military campaign. Joe is a mercenary who now specialises in retrieving children from kidnappers and traffickers. He is in demand for his work and has a reputation for being brutal. He is taxed with returning the young daughter of a senator. Of course, it is not quite as straightforward as it seems.
This is no Taken, or whatever rubbish Liam Neeson has been churning out lately. When the plot gets going we glimpse the first ring of a huge political conspiracy. Instead of leaning in and trying to discover the intricacies of the conspiracy, and how deep it goes, Joe is about getting out with the girl and with his life intact. You Were Never Really Here is about Joe and his actions and reactions. Not the grand conspiracy which envelopes him.
The film is more collage than linear story. Ramsay cuts back and forth from the present to flashbacks of Joe's youth in an abusive family, time in a unspecified war zone, and his previous cases. One thing I really love about this movie is the lack of hand holding. Quite like The Phantom Thread (also scored by Johnny Greenwood ), it trusts its audience to keep up. Ramsey shows the audience Joe's past and present and lets us work it out - not that it’s a particularly difficult narrative. It is also good to see a film these days with a running length of just 90 minutes.
The violence is quick and extreme, but on a second watch I was surprised how much is hidden with edits and sharp cuts. This is one of the best films I have seen this year, but it is not for the squeamish. Ramsay showed in We Need to Talk About Kevin she could film violence in a unique way. She does not always show the moment of force. She shows the results of violence. Most gasps (and there were gasps, and two walk outs ) from the audience were from the effects of violence, the camera lingering on hands cut open or a gunshot wound to the face.
When the senator is explaining the case to Joe about his missing daughter he says, “I heard you can be brutal”. Joe replies, “I can be." A similar conversation may have gone down when the producers hired Ramsay.