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Ramsay’s Lesson-like Directing in You Were Never Really Here

A veteran who makes a living by finding missing girls finds himself trapped in a conspiracy on one of the jobs, all the while fighting his own demons. Doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, right? It really isn’t, but everything else about the film is.

MV5BMjEzMTI0NDkwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg3OTk3NDM@._V1_Adapted from Jonathan Ames’ novella with the same title, You Were Never Really Here is a 2017 film directed by Lynne Ramsay, which received a seven-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Many might be familiar with Lynne Ramsay’s work from 2011’s critically acclaimed We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I was late to the scene with You Were Never Really Here being my first Ramsay film. Nevertheless, I corrected my mistake by going through the catalogue, and You Were Never Really Here remains my favourite.

For one, making gritty crime dramas is quite an underestimated task, as it more often than not either serves as a shell for an underwhelming story, or is over the top and pretentious. Finding the balance for this genre is no easy feat, which is one the reasons David Fincher is so popular in my opinion. Nevertheless, with You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay strikes a nerve, and presents the audience with a dense and packed-with-tension tone that haunted me longer than the ninety-minute runtime of the film.

As previously mentioned, the film does not really explore any ideas new to film, yet its approach is unique. The protagonist, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is the only character we follow, as the story does not branch out to explore separate characters, but this is not bothersome at all. His struggles are portrayed realistically with very remarkable scenes, and the same can be said for when he is on the job.

I find it almost pointless to talk about what a great actor Joaquin Phoenix is, as it is practically an unwritten rule to praise him whenever he takes on a new role (and he deserves every bit of that praise). As such, he delivers nothing less than expected. 

Regarding the plot, it is structured very well. Ramsay reminds us of her talent in pulling audiences into dark, gripping scenes. If one watches her film with a curious eye, there is also a lot to take in terms of message. 

Perhaps the most striking aspect of You Were Never Really Here are the sequences Ramsay managed to pull off that are shot so incredibly uniquely, I don’t think I have encountered anything similar in other films. Her portrayals of violence and episodes of PTSD are one of its kind, and there is a lot to learn for aspiring directors here on how to create and sustain tension.

As a sum, You Were Never Really Here works on many different levels. If you want to see a gritty crime drama, a very dark story, or just a story told in a completely different manner, this film is definitely worth seeing. Not to mention, it is too short to not see if one has even the faintest curiosity.

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