Friday 9 March 2018

"You Were Never Really Here" (Catholic Herald 08/03/18)

You can tell an actor’s on a roll when he’s cast as Christ and a merciless killer in the course of a single season. Ahead of his idiosyncratic Jesus in this Easter’s Mary Magdalene, Joaquin Phoenix rises again as Joe, the world-weary assassin of You Were Never Really Here (**, 15, 85 mins), Scottish director Lynne Ramsay’s take on Jonathan Ames’s novel: bulked out and hoodied-up, he’s the centrepiece of a violent jigsaw puzzle bearing edges so sharp they could take your eye out. Ramsay’s New York bloodbath has been drawing comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s landmark Taxi Driver, yet the most apt review perhaps lies in wait among a police bulletin’s final lines: approach with caution, if at all.

A dishevelled hulk of scar tissue held together by muscle memories of some still-vivid trauma, Joe spends his lonely downtime pondering how to end his torment: his hobby would appear to be sticking his head in plastic bags. As for his uptime, all we need to observe is the way he eyes the ballpeen hammers in his local hardware store. Not for this thug the clean kills of a silenced gun; his tendency to absent himself from rooms, conversations, normal society stems from an awareness no good can come from his being around. Even when he gains renewed purpose – undertaking to rescue a girl from a child sex ring – we can only fear the worst.

Everything about the film has been designed to make its audience flinch. As 2011’s We Need toTalk About Kevin suggested, Ramsay has become increasingly fascinated by the evil men do, and increasingly forceful in her methods of putting that evil across. When Joe squishes a jellybean between his fingers, it registers as if a planet had been vaporised, so you can imagine the impact when somebody’s brains get blown out. There’s skill among its shock tactics – Joe Bini’s editing sublimates the worst exploitation – but I felt Ramsay pursuing this vision of dead-end masculinity into a creative dead end of her own; not even her thoroughly committed star could sell me on Joe’s late and phoney-seeming redemption.

By paring her cinema to the bone, the filmmaker has abandoned the lyricism that elevated her breakthrough works Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar: the balloons floated towards the Moon, how Samantha Morton’s face lit up upon hearing a certain song. (The one vaguely comparable sequence here, involving Charlene’s deathless one-hit wonder “I’ve Never Been to Me”, just smacks of glib Tarantino-ism.) In an increasingly ruthless marketplace, empty violence is one means of impressing yourself upon producers, critics and audiences, I guess – but as any halfway serious student of Joe’s sorrows would intuit, it’s no way to spend your evenings, and not especially good for the soul.

You Were Never Really Here opens in selected cinemas from today.

No comments:

Post a Comment