You Were Never Really Here ★★★

Visually and sonically mesmerizing—Greenwood's done it again—with a pained and physical lead performance by the always fantastic Joaquin Phoenix. However, it's also a frustrating experience in many regards because it seems to use PTSD as a stylistic crutch of sorts instead of as a meaningful foundation to the story. I don't doubt that Lynne Ramsay's intentions are genuine, but getting us into the headspace of a character and his trauma is not necessarily the same thing as developing that character and his trauma. You can craft disorientation and rely on fragmentation all you want, but that approach tends to keep everything at a stagnant, surface level distance. This film manages to suffer from being too heavy-handed and too obtuse at the same time, and what results is a portrait of a character that feels unfinished. Additionally, the supporting characters feel less like characters and more like puzzle pieces without any place to fit, and anything meaningful the film has to say about violence, corruption, or trauma is diluted by Ramsay's insistence on transcending genre conventions.

However, Ramsay is still very good at what she does behind the camera, and that results in some imaginative and brutally effective sequences (the primary of which utilizes a CCTV system). Even if it doesn't have much to say about it, the way the film approaches violence is fascinating to watch, and there's a wonderfully dark, absurdist sense of humor that feeds into the narrative from all sides. Phoenix approaches his own character beautifully, utilizing the canvas of a hulking, ruthless killer to continually break himself down. Overall, it's a film with everything going for it and one that I thought I would love. It just never completely clicks. 

GRADE: B-

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