Another Lynne Ramsay movie. She is one of those consistent directors where I can often cut-and-paste from other reviews and it will make sense. About her debut, Ratcatcher, I wrote, "Ramsay is an uncompromising filmmaker ... she isn’t necessarily looking to narrative ... it is images that tell her story." Morvern Callar: "Samantha Morton has to carry a film that doesn't seem to care much about narrative." We Need to Talk About Kevin: "The film is often confusing ... again, this is intentional ... Ramsay isn’t interested in a clear narrative". I added, "Ramsay has very specific ideas about what she wants to put on the screen, and she has all the tools to accomplish her goals."
While this isn't my cup of tea ... I'm too stuck on narrative ... the truth is, I liked all of those movies. There is something intriguing about what Ramsay is up to, and if she falls short of perfection, well, I don't know that she cares.
You Were Never Really Here is the first time where the negatives overshadowed the positives for me. Joaquin Phoenix is on the screen for virtually the entire movie, and I'm not sure I understood his character any more at the end of the film than I did when it began. It's not that Phoenix is bad ... on the contrary, he is excellent. But his character is so internalized, we never really figure out why he is traumatized, or why he takes a job (a hitman) that seems to disturb him so deeply. You Were Never Really Here was successful with critics who didn't seem bothered by the things that threw me off, so YMMV.
Ramsay takes an interesting approach to the brutal violence in the film. We don't usually see the acts themselves, but instead the effects of that violence on the hitman. We are distanced from the violence, which works into the distance we feel from the character. It's hard to think of a film where we got so much into the head of a character without ever understanding him. But again, that may be inherent in Ramsay's approach.
She also effectively uses sounds and music to produce a soundtrack that is almost like a horror film, with startling moments and a generally ominous feel (Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood did the music). If I sound undecided, that's because I am ... Ramsay is capable of some great moments, but I'm still waiting for that "perfection".
#236 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.
(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)