REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

Rating Stars 3

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

You Were Never Really There looked like a film I wasn’t going to enjoy. Action/Thriller genres aren’t really for me- especially films that look like they’re going to be basically a more indie remake of Taken.

You Were Never Really There pleasantly surprised me. It was actually pretty entertaining, albeit very indie. Despite rugged American Joaquin Phoenix playing the lead, and the overtly American mise en scene and vocabulary- you can easily tell this film is British made. It has the gritty, low budget feel of British thrillers such as Eden Lake and others of that ilke.


What surprised me about the film is how little dialogue there actually is. The majority of the scenes feature the protagonist Joe (Phoenix) alone- and he barely does more than grunt in the occasional scenes featuring other people.

The film opens with Joe finishing a job- it is unclear what he does, but there is blood, dead bodies and a photograph of a young girl. The rest is up to our imagination. After cleaning up the mess, Joe calls a number from a pay phone and says the ominous opening line – “it’s done.”

No more is said about his job. We follow Joe home, where he lives with his ageing Mother (Judith Roberts). Joe plays the whole of her carer in this dynamic, tucking her into bed at night and cleaning up after her. They have a rocky relationship, one minute engaging in tender moments, the other screaming at each other. His mother nags him for not having any love life, which Joe brushes off. “You’d have made such a good Father” she tells him.


Joe is eventually called for another job. A Senators troubled daughter has been kidnapped by what seems to be an underage sex ring- who have left an anonymous clue as to their location. Joe goes to the location, finds the daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) and takes her to a hotel room where he has prearranged to meet her Father and return her to him.

This is where the action really starts to kick off. Whilst waiting for the Senator (Alex Manette), they hear on the television that he has committed suicide. Two brutes dressed as policemen break into the room and seize Nina, attempting to kill Joe. He breaks free and escapes with his life.

Trying to figure out exactly what’s going on, Joe tracks everyone involved in the operation, only to find everyone has been killed. He is the sole survivor. It is now Joe’s responsibility to find Nina and get to the bottom of the mystery.


You Were Never Really Here has an insane amount of violence in it. There are no frills or crazy action sequences of the kind you’ll find in other Hollywood thrillers- just plain and brutal violence. There are only two characters who make it out of the film alive- everyone else- everyone is murdered. Even the most minor characters- even the extras.

The film goes quite quickly, and the plot is not what it seems on the surface. The script leaves more to be desired- nothing is really explained properly and you will definitely leave with more questions than you go in with.

It’s a good effort and is great to watch Phoenix carry whole film with minimal dialogue. If you want a film with a great storyline and action, this is not for you. However, if you’re into British gritty drama, you might just love it.

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