Joaquin Phoenix delivers his best performance yet in ‘You Were Never Really Here’


Ekaterina Samsonov and Joaquin Phoenix star as Nina and Joe in “You Were Never Really Here” Amazon Studios Photo

With outstanding writing and brilliant performances, “You Never Were Really Here” is one of the best mystery-thrillers this year.

The film, directed by Lynne Ramsay, follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) who is a veteran turned contract killer and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Joe makes his living by saving young girls from human trafficking and brutally killing their owners and customers. A New York State Senator asks Joe if he can rescue his daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been kidnapped by traffickers. Joe agrees to the job and begins his investigation of her whereabouts. However, while rescuing Nina, Joe discovers there is a bigger conspiracy involving the kidnapping of Nina.

“You Were Never Really Here” is one of the best written and produced mystery films in years.

Ramsay did an exceptional job writing and directing this cinematic masterpiece. There was never a dull moment and the writing created a captivating narrative with enough suspense to leave you hanging at the edge of your seat.

The musical score accompanies the film very well. Composed by Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist of Radiohead, the score combines orchestral arrangements with synth-pop and vaporwave. At first, I thought this was a bit unorthodox for a film soundtrack, but it exceeded my expectations and complimented the tone of the film.

Though the writing of the film was great, and Greenwood delivered another enthralling original score, what made this movie go from good to great is Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

Phoenix’s performance as Joe is the driving force of this film. Know for other films such as “Gladiator” (2000), “The Village” (2004), and “Her” (2013), Phoenix has established himself as an actor with great range and that talent is highlighted in “You Were Never Really Here”.

Phoenix’s portrayal of Joe is worthy of an Oscar. Joe’s mannerisms and demeanor creates a character that is intimidating and dreadful.

Yet, there are moments where Joe becomes emotionally vulnerable because he is constantly haunted by tragic memories of his past.

These moments of genuine emotion engage the audience because they create intimate moments that help the audience become emotionally attached and invested into the film and in Joe’s character.

In the film, Joe suffers from PTSD. Although the origin of how he got PTSD is slightly referenced in the film with flashbacks, it is never confirmed what exactly Joe went through that caused him to have this post-traumatic stress.

However, Ramsay and Phoenix were able to portray PTSD very well in this film with various filmmaking techniques. The clever use of cinematography and sound editing, along with Phoenix’s performance, were used to show how much PTSD affected Joe on a day-to-day basis and how horrid it is to live with this illness.

Phoenix has demonstrated, just in this film alone, that he is an actor with an immense amount of talent. His character exemplifies the highs and the lows of the human condition and his performance makes “You Were Never Really Here” one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Angel Ortega can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_arts on Twitter.