Where Are You?

Joaquin Phoenix is all fist, no heart in 'Never Really Here'

Plot parallels between You Were Never Really Here and Taxi Driver are obvious, despite the visual and sonic texture flaunted to obscure the links. This version is more compact, or rather circular: the
kind of big-time politician that Travis was stalking in Taxi Driver is now actually involved in pimping out underage girls.

In this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel, about a traumatized Marine vet hired to rescue girls sold into sexual slavery, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) shambles through his vigilante missions. Phoenix is in his wounded Joaquin mode, cryptic, sleepy-eyed and morose, tottering through scenes while he dispatches guards and perverts with a ball-peen hammer.

Sounds like juicy material, but in the name of seriousness, director Lynne Ramsay cuts away anything thrilling, or even compelling. It’s a vigilante movie so aestheticized that it loses its energy—knuckle sandwiches with the crusts cut off, served on a doily.

Jonny Greenwood’s score thrums away with dissonant strings
and industrial roars, but the texture-quest is out of control here.
There are one too many shots of the jeweled lights of NYC diffused through a rainy window, like spilled sequins, and a body disposal at a country lake looks like a baptism. One rampage, scored to Rosie and the Originals’ “Angel Baby,” is seen through several night-vision security cameras.

The moment of impact is always just off screen or seen in a small corner of the frame. Ramsay could be classified with Nicolas Roeg and John Boorman among U.K. directors who find a transcendental side to violence, and I like a director with a taste for unique, immersive visuals. Yet ultimately we have a better idea about how the bricks in Joe’s mom’s house look than we do of how it was that Joe first curled his hand around the hammer of justice.

‘You Were Never Really Here’ is playing at Rialto Cinemas,
6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 707.525.4840.

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