You Were Never Really Here is a powerful psychological thriller that grabs you by the throat right from the start, and never lets go.
In the role of his life, Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe – an ex-Army war veteran and ‘gun for hire’ – who searches for and finds missing people for a living.
When he is called upon to rescue the daughter of a New York state senator, however, what seems like a routine job turns into something much more complicated.
The senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette) gives Joe the job because he has an election to fight and doesn’t want any scandal.
And Votto certainly has no love for the evil men who have his daughter – telling Joe to ‘hurt them bad, real bad’.
However, the contract killer and ‘kidnap return’ specialist gets a bit more than he bargains for when he comes up against a minefield of violent and dangerous men determined to kill him.
Fortunately, Joe is no stranger to violence and head-butts people for fun.
He also knows his way around the tool shed, using a hammer as his preferred weapon of choice, in much the same way as Javier Bardem used a cattle stun gun in the Coen Brothers classic of 10 years ago: No Country for Old Men.
Incidentally, some critics have also compared You Were Never Really Here with Martin Scorcese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver, and there are plenty of similarities.
However, it is the sheer tension and jaw-dropping anticipation of this film that holds the audience as we are transported into another world – one of mindless violence, unresolved trauma and bizarre autoeroticism.
There is one scene where Joe as a young teenager, witnesses some shocking domestic abuse, and this may well be a source of some of his emotional issues.
Deeply scarred, Joe still lives with his elderly mother, and after accepting the assignment to rescue the runaway girl (Nina, played by Ekaterina Samsonov), he soon realises he has opened a hornet’s nest.
Directed by acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin), You Were Never Really Here is a masterpiece of suspense.
It is also ironic that when Joe first returns home from completing an earlier hit in Cincinnati, he finds his mother in front of the television watching the classic Hitchcock thriller Psycho.
Perhaps the grittiness and grimness of You Were Never Really Here might leave some people wishing for something brighter and more uplifting.
However, the real genius of this film lies in its dark beauty and deep, unbridled misanthropy, which is brilliantly portrayed by Phoenix.
Little wonder You Were Never Really Here won the awards for Best Actor and Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
You Were Never Really Here is showing exclusively at Luna Leederville from September 6.
By Mike Peeters