Ramsay elevates the material way beyond the conventional by sheer filmmaking craft.
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Cinematically, it’s undeniably gripping, a tightly wound contraption of nervous energy, grief, and gore. But it’s in service of a story that’s been told countless times before, and it’s not clear where Ramsay’s usually singular point of view is in play.
It’s an enticing challenge for the writer-director to develop a stylish mood piece out this flimsy material, adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella as a series of textured moments. The movie is an elegant homage to a mold of scrappy detective stories that often collapses into a concise pileup of stylish possibilities.
On the level of montage, You Were Never Really Here is an expressionistic tour de force.
Ramsay has made more sensually rapturous films, but this may be her most formally exacting: No shot or cut here is idle or extraneous.
The entire, whippet-lean film feels like an experiment in impressionist condensation, as though Ramsay is testing the limits of how little she can give us, and how weird it can be, while still delivering a recognisable revenge thriller.
Over the years, Phoenix has given us some of the most memorable portraits of dark flawed men from Commodus to Johnny Cash. Here, he is excellent, utterly convincing as a man who has been hammered by the world and so has decided to hammer it back.
This intoxicatingly stylish work is all over the place, a hot mess at times so ravishing it sends shivers down to the toes. Unfortunately, it’s also at times just plain crass and silly.
It is a movie which teeters perpetually on the verge of hallucination, with hideous images and horrible moments looming suddenly through the fog; its movement is largely inward and downward, into a swamp of suppressed abuse memories which are never entirely pieced together or understood – even as the sickeningly violent action continues.
It’s not an experience to relish, exactly, but it’s still one that’s fully capable of blowing you away.