You Were Never Really Here ★★★★★

Watched as part of the July 2018 Letterboxd Scavenger Hunt
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23. A24 deservedly gets a lot of love from cinephiles, but that appreciation usually does not trickle down to the production houses that make some of the movies they distribute, and one studio in particular has been consistently churning out great films for some time: watch a film produced by Film4 Productions

I decided to watch You Were Never Really Here based only on the fact that a bunch of my Letterboxd friends had good things to say about it when it first came out, but it was when firing it up that I learned two very interesting things about it for the first time: that it was directed by Lynne Ramsay, known for such uncompromising, visually-oriented art films as Ratcatcher and We Need to Talk About Kevin; and that it was adapted from a novel by Jonathan Ames, creator of one of my favorite TV shows of all time (HBO's Bored to Death), a rare dark thriller from this usual penner of witty intellectual comedies.

Those two facts tell you a lot about what you're in store for with this film, whose many public comparisons to Taxi Driver I assumed at first was just a facile audience being their usual facile selves ("He drives around in a car by himself at night in New York City! It's just like Taxi Driver!!!"), but as the movie continued I realized more and more was actually a very apt comparison. Like many Ramsay movies, the plot itself is actually quite simple -- a mentally ill military veteran makes his post-war living rescuing girls who are about to be sold into sexual slavery, but his latest case reveals an unrealistic and unearned "twist" that feels more at home in a Young Adult comic book than in an adult novel for grown-ups (it's no coincidence, I think, that none of us had heard of the original book before this movie came out) -- and so like many Ramsay movies, the pleasure here is in the minimalist, visually stunning way she actually presents this simplistic story onscreen, as well as the layers of nuance that the finally-in-his-groove Joaquin Phoenix brings to the main role, an actor I hated for literally the entire first half of his career but who I've absolutely loved in pretty much everything he's made since the criminally misunderstood I'm Still Here (which I'm convinced will eventually be seen as one of the most important films ever made about the "Bling Bling Era," despite the massive amount of hate that was heaped upon it by contemporary Bling Bling audiences).

Be warned, the violence on display here is absolutely brutal, and it contains more trigger alerts than NRA Day at a minor-league baseball game; but for those who can stomach it, this is a fine addition to the growing powerful oeuvre of this fascinating Scottish director, one of the few who has figured out how to tread that extremely fine line between art-house profundity and commercial respectability.

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