Joaquin Phoenix has had one of the most interesting careers of any actor currently working. Starting off as a child actor that had trouble getting out of the shadow of his brother, Joaquin Phoenix transitioned into an actor that perfectly balanced work in prestige pictures and second tier blockbusters. That all changed about ten years ago when Phoenix did a much publicized bit of performance art with I’m Still Here, a documentary about his fake attempt to start a rap career. Since than Phoenix has transitioned into a career of art-house pictures that have turned him into one of the best of his craft (his performance in The Master is one for the ages). One of Phoenix’s most recent performances was in You Were Never Really Here in which he collaborated with director Lynne Ramsey, who up until this movie found herself in director’s jail for a creative fallout with producers on her previous film effort. You Were Never Really Here has all of the traits of the type of movie that Phoenix is attracted to nowadays. The movie has a simple plot but the filmmaking style is very experimental. This all leads to a final product that is odd and at times boring but you can at least admire the ambition on display.
You Were Never Really Here follows a hit man (Joaquin Phoenix) who specializes in rescuing people from sex trafficking. On his current hit, the man begins to uncover a conspiracy. When broken down to the basics, the plot of this movie is very simple. However, there are so many stylistic flourishes added to this movie that it can be hard at times to understand what is going on. A lot of this movie takes place in side the head of the hit man so you never really know if what you are watching is real or if what you are watching is the hit man day dreaming or thinking about things (the day dreaming and internal thought sequences are shot in the same style as the real life sequences). With such an internal style of portraying this character, it’s hard not to notice the uniqueness of this approach. However, this style does not explore the hit man enough to ever fully warrant this stylistic decision. It also seems like a distraction so the viewer doesn’t realize how basic the plot of this movie is.
All that being said Joaquin Phoenix is unsurprisingly fully committed to his role. A lot of this movie asks Phoenix to display emotions while just using facial movements. The movie loves to shoot him in facial close-ups without giving him any lines to show how his character is feeling. It’s a tricky role that Phoenix handles well. Making the role even more difficult is that Phoenix has little in the way of a supporting cast. Judith Roberts as the hit man’s mother gets the only thing close to resembling a complete role.
You Were Never Really Here is an interesting take on a character study, but a lot of the movie is just trying to distract you from its shallow subject matter. You Were Never Really Here is now streaming on Amazon Prime.