Sunday 29 April 2018

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

Scots director Lynne Ramsay's most recent film was We Need to Talk About Kevin. 

'Recent' is a relative term... that was back in 2011. But it was an impressive and striking film, so I was very much up for seeing her new movie. 

We Need to Talk About Kevin was adapted from a novel by Lionel Shriver and You Were Never Really Here is again based on a violent prose story, the novella by Jonathan Ames, an intriguing writer who created the TV series Bored to Death and Blunt Talk.

You Were Never Really Here has echoes of Point Blank, but much more emphatically of Taxi Driver — I discovered I was far from the only one to draw this comparison when I saw how heavily the poster campaign leaned on it.

It’s the story of a hitman, Joe played by Joaquim Phoenix who is hired to rescue a politician’s young teenage daughter from a creepy bordello. He does so, and all hell breaks loose...

It’s an art movie, but scarily bleak, with profound violence. Also moments of great beauty and strangeness. 

Joe finds that his mother has been murdered by a couple of assassins in suits. He kills them both. It takes one quite a while to die, in Joe’s kitchen.

Joe gives him a pain killer. Then he lies on the floor beside him. They both sing along to a song on the radio, and the assassin reaches over and takes Joe’s hand and clasps it, just before he dies. 

Poetic, moving, and deeply strange.  (I'm clearly not the only one to find this scene extraordinary. One of the posters references it.)

Joe is also suffering massive PTSD after suffering abuse as a child, and serving as a soldier in Iraq. This is superbly presented in fragmented flashbacks without ever being fully spelled out or explained, as it would have been in just about every other film. 

The sound design, by Paul Davies, should have been amazing — sometimes it was amazing — but it had the curious and fatal defect of rendering the most quiet and irrelevant background noise highly audible, while the movie's dialogue was murky and muddy and often incomprehensible. (Maybe on a really state of the art cinema sound system it would have fared better.)

Johnny Greenwood provided what was almost a parody Johnny Greenwood score. But it was good. 
And there was brilliant use of source music — wildly inappropriate cheerful pop songs of yesteryear like 'If I Knew You Were Coming I'd've Baked a Cake' and 'Angel Baby'.

Not a pleasant movie, but a genuine work of art, highly memorable and I’m already feeling faint yearnings to see it again…

(Image credits: For a rather small art movie, this has an amazing number of posters — and some really striking ones — at Imp Awards. Nice.)

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