This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I feel like there’s a lot to write about in this densely-packed, minimalist (essence of a) character piece, and I’ll definitely do a proper bit of writing on this one day, but I’ll settle for a couple of things that stood out on this rewatch, which is the best I’ve had so far:
- The camera move in the motel lobby at the beginning is one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. We implicitly think we’re seeing a POV of Joe exiting the motel, and this suspicion is confirmed when the camera approaches and then withdraws from the window, where a police car waits outside. We retreat back until we stop just behind Joe’s shoulder, who then walks left out of frame. The shot literally shifts its function halfway through its central motion, and Joe’s body literally leaves any perspective he had on that moment behind him. As this is a film about deep-seated emotional trauma, the disassociation between Joe’s body and Joe’s soul in this single camera move absolutely floors me.
- If this film has any flaws, they’re definitely earnest ones. The main problem lies in the three backstories Joe is given through fragmented flashbacks, and it feels like Ramsay wanting to have her cake and eat it by combining Joe’s abusive childhood with his experiences in the FBI and the army. It’s simply too much for a film as stripped back as it is, but it nonetheless illustrates an interesting way of getting into Joe’s head. For example, when he is approached on the street by a group of girls of Asian descent, he is immediately hesitant and his mind quickly makes the association between a group of girls having a good day-out with the (presumably trafficked) pile of Asian corpses he found in storage during his stint in the FBI. The same type of association happens later when Joe is trying to sneak around his house when the two hitmen are downstairs; the very fact he knows he has to be quiet triggers a memory where a terrified younger version of his mother tells him to shush when his monstrous father is pacing around the house with a hammer. These direct routes between tension in the scene and memories as backstory not only illustrate the sheer damage caused to Joe’s psyche, but also the destructive, unhelpful ways in which these manifest. The association between a person’s race and past trauma is an incredibly sad way of seeing into Joe’s worldview, as a certain race of people inadvertently causes him to panic. Even Joe’s survival mechanisms bring back nasty memories.
- Jonny Greenwood’s masterful score is his most diverse work to date, modulating between different levels of intensity and tranquility. It also helps the film volumes in bringing to life both Joe and Nina’s dreamy highs and devastating lows, and you can’t ask for much more from a single artist working on a single piece of music. The man is quite simply at the top of his game.