Fueled by deep ambiguity and esoteric form, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here is an ethereal and arresting piece of noir filmmaking. The movie's avant garde flourishes might not work for all viewers, but for those open to more experimental thrillers, the film presents a powerful and absorbing descent into dark mystery. There are some very minor issues here and there, but the video transfer and audio mix both complement the film's eerie style. Sadly, we get absolutely no supplements. But despite that disappointment, the movie itself is the real draw here. Recommended.
The dark things we see and the horrors we experience don't just evaporate into the night air after they've gone. The pain of lingering trauma can follow someone throughout their lives, informing each passing moment with a spectral reminder of tragedies long since gone yet forever fresh. Tormented by waking nightmares of the past, the protagonist of Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here is no stranger to such enduring ghosts of memory. An esoteric journey into noir-influenced mystery, the film is a gritty and ethereal exercise in pitch-black filmmaking -- ushering viewers down a violent and methodical path forged by the drifting shadow of a man with a hammer in his hand.
Based on Jonathan Ames' novella of the same name, the plot focuses on Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a hired gun who tracks down and rescues missing girls. Deeply troubled by past traumas but highly effective at his job, Joe has no qualms about brutally dispatching the kidnappers and traffickers he encounters. After accepting an assignment to find a State Senator's daughter, Joe goes through his usual methods. But just when it seems like the case is about to be closed, dangerous new developments arise, thrusting the man into a deadly conspiracy.
And as Joe methodically goes through the motions of his job, director Lynne Ramsay frequently eschews typical exposition in favor of simply showing him do what he does: buy supplies, stake out leads, interrogate suspects, beat the hell out of criminals, and check in with his ailing mother in between. Taut but still deliberately measured in its pacing, the script excises all unnecessary fat. What's left is a relatively simple mystery narrative greatly elevated by meaningful cinematic form, a complex central character, and key subversions of genre expectations.
Obscured by long hair, a scraggly beard, and a hat, much of Joe's face is often hidden from view -- the man he was in better times now virtually buried from sight. Brilliantly disappearing into the role, Phoenix crafts a genuinely arresting performance. Marked by a detached expression punctuated by moments of unbridled aggression, the actor conveys a lumbering husk of a man sleepwalking from one moment to the next only to briefly awaken when called for bloody justice. Plagued by suicidal thoughts, it's clear he wants to die from the opening shot on. But he pushes forward. A girl is still missing. He's not done just yet.
The deeper he gets, however, the more he starts to unravel. And just as the character is perpetually haunted by his past, so too is the very form of Ramsay's filmmaking -- cutting disorienting flashes of memory into present-day scenes. These very quick shots of bygone trauma hint at the causes of Joe's suffering without every fully explaining or elaborating on his backstory. Other stylistic flourishes also help to enhance the film's faintly surreal mood while quietly defying audience expectations. For instance, Joe's violent infiltration of a sex trafficking den is actually shot from the perspective of stationary, black and white security cameras, keeping his brutality at an unexpected distance while casually cutting from room to room as he dispatches the criminals.
Other instances similarly work against traditional genre conventions. At one point in the movie, there's even a moment when Joe lays on the floor next to a dying man he shot -- a dying man who was trying to kill him just moments earlier. As the man takes in his last breaths, he begins to sing a song playing over the radio. Joe gently takes the man's hand and then softly sings with him as he passes. It's an almost comically peculiar and brief aside given no further clarification, an inexplicably human gesture nestled in between otherwise ugly pangs of violence. And it's also kind of beautiful.
A uniquely odd and dark bit of subversive noir filmmaking, You Were Never Really Here ultimately leaves viewers unsure what to think or what to feel, embracing in its final moments the kind of emotional ambiguity most films deliberately avoid. Teetering between deeply tragic and potentially hopeful, we are forced to question what's left behind the eyes of the characters still standing -- and if whatever's there, is enough.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Lionsgate presents You Were Never Really Here on a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. An inset with a code for a digital copy is also included. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The film is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Marked by an appropriately gritty style, the image suits the dark content well.
The digital source is mostly free from artifacts, but some false contouring does crop up in a few isolated instances, typically on walls in darker parts of the background. Likewise, the movie does feature a light to moderate layer of digital grain, adding a textured look that harks back to the film's 70s/80s exploitation thriller influences. Clarity is solid, revealing every strand of hair in Phoenix's bushy beard but the picture is never razor sharp like some other modern digital releases. A couple softer shots crop up here and there as well, particularly one close-up of Joe's face in a car at night. Colors mostly stick to a fairly drab and grungy palette, often resulting in a sickly yellow/green cast or predominantly somber blue hues. Again, this might not lead to the most traditionally impressive image, but the aesthetic suits the noir tone of the narrative perfectly. Finally, contrast is handled well with balanced whites and deep black levels.
You Were Never Really Here isn't exactly a pretty movie, but it's intended style is preserved quite well. Some minor false contouring holds the score back just a tad, but this is an overall solid transfer.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Quietly enveloping and powerfully aggressive in potent bursts, this is a deeply layered and immersive track.
Dialogue is relatively clean throughout, but the characters have a tendency to whisper and mumble their lines a bit leading to a few instances when speech sounds a tad too low for my liking. With that said, the film's sense of ambiance is exceptional. Subtle effects like dogs barking, wind chimes, and cars passing are all carefully layered into the background, creating a surprisingly wide sense of space and atmosphere that spreads in all directions. Imaging between speakers is precise, gradually transitioning key sounds, like a security alarm or a moving subway train, from the left and right or front to back. On that note, surrounds are used very well to enhance the city atmosphere and haunting, ethereal quality of Joe's frequent flashbacks. And though the film can be subdued at times, the electronic beats of Johnny Greenwood's moody score come through with commanding presence and LFE. Likewise, the film's more intense scenes feature deep bass activity, bringing a guttural thud to every gun shot.
Thanks to an assured sense of mood and texture, the audio creates a wide and spacious sense of atmosphere. Though dialogue is just a tad soft at times, the deliberate sound design and evocative score work together brilliantly.
Sadly, we get nothing in the way of supplements here -- not even a measly trailer.
Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here takes viewers down an absorbing and ethereal journey into darkness. Quietly subverting genre expectations, the movie subtly distorts noir conventions into a disquieting and brutral thriller that feels both familiar and unique. Video and audio presentations are both strong, complementing the film's striking style well. Unfortunately, there are no supplements on the disc. Still, the movie itself is the real draw here, and though some viewers might be turned off by the film's abstract style, audiences who are open to more experimental forms of filmmaking should find a lot to admire here. Recommended.