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Sundance 2018 Review: “You Were Never Really Here” (2017) ★★★★★


Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors who can handle any role given to them. He does not even need to speak much, as through his facial expressions he is more than capable to transfer any feelings he wants to. Also, the toughness of his looks has always served him greatly enabling him to create the most memorable characters. Lynne Ramsay’s “You were never really here” is about a man who misses his entire life due to his traumatized past. It is that same past that makes him into a perfect candidate for the job he is hired to do. What he does is not really a pleasant thing for the eyes to see but it is important since he saves innocent lives.

The protagonist’s name is Joe. He is a contractor who helps to track down and release young girls who have been kidnapped or exploited sexually against their will. For his new assignment, he must save a young girl named Nina from a sex ring. He does that only to lose her the same night to powerful people. And that is the beginning of his journey. Not only his assignment goes out of control, but it all turns very brutal.

Joe is suicidal. As if to test himself, he always keeps a plastic bag. He takes medicines and is ready to destroy anyone who comes close to him. We also see the opposite side of Joe. He is gentle and caring for his old mother who has a great sense of humor. For this new assignment, Joe is hired by a person called John McCleary. Joe has a long list of successful rescue assignments, thus, it seems that nothing can go wrong this time either. The young girl Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) has disappeared since last weekend. When Joe finds her at a child prostitution ring, he develops a special bond with the girl. That same bond is what turns him into a killing machine when he loses her and has to set on search and find her again. As you watch him or the flashback scenes, you realize that his troubled past has a long history that takes way back when he was a little boy.

His physical strength amazes the viewer throughout the film. It also gives a hint that he has previously worked for the military or at the border. Also, the scene where bodies of dead young Asian girls are transported in several cars gives us more information about his past. Whether it is due to those events or his childhood trauma, Joe is someone whom nobody in their right mind would want to mess with. The thing is, those who go against him do not know about that until they have an encounter with Joe.

In conclusion, based on the novel by Jonathan Ames and directed by Lynne Ramsay, the film offers an uncompromised revenge of the lead character whose does not talk much but is concise but productive through his actions. Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing transformation is another proof of how talented he is. This role has also brought him the Best actor’s award at the Cannes international film festival in 2017.  To summarize, this is a story of a man who has never managed to find his place in this world but due to his efforts and his unusual job he has saved many lives. I am sure, not many people will agree to take his job. Still, you might want to watch and decide for yourself.

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