You Were Never Really Here – a review

you lookin at me…?

On the surface, director Lynne Ramsay‘s You Where Never Really Here is a film about a hitman fighting to rescue a young damsel in distress. Doesn’t sound like anything new. Bursting out from under that surface, however, is something very different.

Joaquin Phoenix offers something that few, maybe none, of his contemporaries can. He is almost elemental in his physicality. His tortured Joe, here, is a maelstrom of dysfunction, maladjustment and suicidal trauma.

Recurring, and perhaps ever so slightly overused, flashbacks enlighten the roots of his fractured existence. And here in lies the film’s depth and impact. The comparisons to Martin Scorsese‘s seminal Taxi Driver are valid and fair, if not well earned. There are almost certainly visual references, nods and, dare it be said, homage to that classic throughout Ramsay’s film. It’s more a tonal piece about the realities of living with post-traumatic stress disorder, the violent retributional rage and suicidal abandon that go along with that, rather than a conventional narrative film. The plot is largely secondary, in fact, the focus being so prevalent on Phoenix’s characterisation of a man not broken but shattered, destroyed, by the terrible things he’s seen and done. Questions are subtly but powerfully raised about the consequences when our society asks certain terrible but necessary things of the few, so that the many don’t have to.

Although an incredibly violent film, a very deliberate and overt decision has been made not to actually show any of it, not in any conventional glamourised style anyway. It’s almost all aftermath; cause and effect. Flashes of image and sound rather than gory close-ups and multiple angle showy action editing. In fact, as is so often the case, the marketing for the film and, in particular, the trailer are misleading. This isn’t your classic action revenge movie with Joaquin Phoenix playing the badass hero. Ironic that such a dishonest portrayal of the film is used to promote it, as it is incredibly raw in its honesty as a piece of filmmaking. A thing can be both raw and beautiful. Like a crude diamond. And it’s fair to say that Ramsay harnessed that kind of performance from Phoenix with considerable craft.

Oh, and whether you love or hate an ambiguous ending, then here you get the possibility of three. The film’s title possibly making sense for the first time just as the credits roll. Not for the faint-hearted but by cleverly subverting its genre, You Were Never Really Here allows itself to say more. And Phoenix, again, is terrifyingly magnetic.

Advertisements
Standard

John Wick: Chapter Two – a review

john-wick-goes-walking-his-dog-in-new-photos

Wicked…

Uber-violent, hyper-real and stunningly-stylised, John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up where the first film left off in more ways than one. Keanu Reeves reprises the titular role with enough dash and swagger to carry the film through its slightly over-reaching 122 minute duration and is still as cool and iconic a movie (anti)hero as you’ll find. Think Clint Eastwood on Speed (get it?).

The Rome nightclub/party/catacombs sequence might just be some of the best action captured on film in recent memory but the feeling that you’re enjoying watching an endless stream of human beings having their heads blown off and seeing their brain matter plastered everywhere can’t ultimately be escaped, which somewhat leaves you questioning the validity of the whole experience and your participation in it, let alone the wider sociological ramifications.

But it is an action film and this is the world we live in – where violence is still revered as entertainment – so let’s just stick to appreciating it within its genre…

Replete with several moments of cinematic homage, including a couple of nods to The Matrix – you can’t help but think ‘Morpheus!’ when Keanu first meets Laurence Fishburne again – and a ‘house of mirrors’ sequence hearkening back to Bruce Lee‘s finale in legendary Enter the Dragon, the sense of self-referential awareness only adds to the aesthetic of John Wick’s world. And in Wick, Reeves has found a career-resurgent character. If the suit fits…and at 52 years of age, he wears it with aplomb.

Both in terms of narrative and thematic design, John Wick 2 is far less succinct and concise than the original installment. 2014’s outing was able to maintain the taught revenge concept a little better, being over 20 minutes shorter, but in so doing never had to flesh out anything beyond the core because its sense of vengeance was so pure and propulsive. Revisiting a character who, seemingly, has already quenched his thirst for blood requires that we have a bit more by way of exposition this time around. This is handled well, with the help of charismatic support from the likes of returning Ian McShane and Lance Redddick, combined with fresh turns from Ruby Rose and Common. The latter newcomer being somewhat more believable than the former and, in fact, Rose’s mute killer is somewhat over-the-top even amidst the heightened-nearly-comicbook-reality that is John Wick. We learn more about the secret society of these underworld assassins and delve a shade darker into John Wick the man, one plagued by loss and the age-old career-killer-who-wanted-to-stop-killing-but-had-his-chance-of-redemption-cruelly-taken-away-so-now-must-kill-again-and-kill-everyone syndrome.

All in all, a highly entertaining, if drawn out and ridiculously violent, super-slick action spectacular.

 

Standard

Live By Night – a review

I misread the dress code...

I misread the dress code on the invite, OK…

The title of Ben Affleck‘s new gangster epic has about as much to do with the plot of the film as his character’s narrative arc has to do with a banana. Nothing. Live By Night is very good-looking, well dressed but clearly overrated. A bit like Affleck himself, unfortunately, as he gets lost swanning around in dozens of exquisitely contemporaneous costumes and forgets to, you know, actually tell a story.

The production design, cinematography and, in particular, the script are all really quite good, testament to Affleck as a writer, but perhaps he falls foul of the curse of biting off more than you can chew. Wearing the hats (Oh, he loves wearing hats in this movie) of writer, director AND lead actor is a tall order, even for someone as talented and experienced as he is, and maybe one too many as there is just something lacking here.

An excellent cast, including an always-full-of-scene-stealing-charisma Brendan Gleeson, veteran pathos from Chris Cooper, sustainable sass from Sienna Miller, New York chomping grit from Chris Messina, an underused balance of delicacy and unhinged fervour by Elle Fanning and a siren-like love interest from Zoe Saldana, can do nothing to elevate this supposedly ‘epic’ picture from the realm of valiant but failed attempt.

It’s a well enough put together film, like a decently complex jigsaw that’s finished with all the right pieces in place but the picture that it forms isn’t all that impressive considering all the work that went into making it. The feeling that Affleck was just having too much fun dressing up, playing gangsters, getting all the girls and forgot to act cannot be escaped. His character, despite attempts to set him up as a First World War veteran recovering from the horrors of battle and determined never to follow orders to kill again are blown out of the water when he starts working for a mob boss and killing people. To say his character and subsequently the film upon which it is based is garbled is to do a disservice to any honest hard-working garbler. This is simply just a narrative mess.

The various genre tropes that are carted out – non-linear storytelling, the rise and fall/rags to riches trajectory – all end up tasting stale and well past their sell-by-dates. Morally a more ambiguous, nay ambivalent, character you may never find. That and the considerable violence on display just feels gratuitous. There’s no reason for him to do any of what he does, other than selfish gain. In order for that to work you need to actually care about your protagonist but how can you be expected to care what happens to someone when they don’t seem to care about anything themselves?

If Argo was overrated, at least it was still a pretty compelling film. This suffers all the damage of the former without any waft of the latter. Maybe there wasn’t space for another take on the gangster epic, maybe it missed its window by a few years or maybe this just ain’t it. In any case, they say you can’t polish a turd, well, this one is quite shiny.

 

first published on Filmjuice.com

Standard