Movie Reviews
You Were Never Really Here

Review: You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here is Joaquin Phoenix at his most violent. You Were Never Really Here is beyond weird as a film and melds multiple ideas into an incredible study. “Joe” is a hero with a hammer who fights child traffickers. Joe is also a seriously messed up individual with seriously questionable moral ambiguity. I’ve been watching my films on streaming sites like Amazon Prime and Netflix so you might have to go digging for this one online if you don’t have either.

The Good

You Were Never Really HereJoaquin Phoenix is a household name at this point of his career and his talented abilities are on full display here. Joaquin embodies a character named Joe. Joe masquerades as a guy as simple as his name but in reality Joe is a brutal monster. Joe, thankfully, isn’t random with his proliferation toward violence. No, instead Joe exercises his brutality toward those who have a career in sex trafficking of young girls. Even though Joe is a brutal sadist he’s one that I somehow root for because he’s focusing his violence toward people that are socially despicable.

Ekaterina Samsonov is really amazing in You Were Never Really Here. I’m not familiar with any of her previous work but she was a stunning surprise half way through the movie. She’s not on screen as often as the marketing would leave you to believe but I noticed her a lot. She almost stole scenes from Phoenix. Let that sink in for a moment. Ekaterina is not alone as Judith Anna Roberts also nearly wrestles scenes away from Phoenix! Judith plays Joe’s mom and watch out for her introduction!

You Were Never Really HereJoe appears as a fairly relateable guy. Joe looks like the average blue collar worker and is mostly soft spoken in tone. There are moments throughout You Were Never Really Here that flash back to Joe’s former life as a soldier and FBI agent.  Joe is a lot more than he appears and suffers from PTSD. In fact, You Were Never Really Here is a full on view into Joe’s psyche giving us insight into the trauma that he struggles with on a daily basis. The film devotes a great deal of time analyzing the emotions of a gun for hire. Yes, that’s right. Joe is not altruistic in and he isn’t out to save everyone suffering. Joe is solely interested in fulfilling his contract and that too is worth noting.

The Bad

You Were Never Really HereYou Were Never Really Here reminds me of Drive. Misleading marketing is not a common tactic and I, for some reason, thought that this movie was going to be completely different. Any assumptions are, admittedly, my own fault but I genuinely feel the marketing helped me create that assumption. I want you to just take a look at the Amazon page and form your own opinion on what this movie could be about. I put this in the bad because it’s not a good experience to get tricked into watching a character study film unprepared.

You Were Never Really Here is horrendously paced. This is one of those movies where we spend long periods of camera time watching the principle actors emote. Some of these shots are extremely well framed. Some are, technically, very impressive shots. These are also the same scenes that suck the life out of you. Asking audiences to disconnect and then reconnect with a film to enjoy a camera technique is a real dilemma here and screws with the immersion into the movie.

You Were Never Really HereNow, some character studies know how to set up the audience for character analysis. They do this and achieve genuine investment and interest in understanding the central character. It’s a difficult thing to pull off You Were Never Really Here doesn’t fully achieve this goal either.To be clear there are times when a movie has an action and then you study the character to understand the decisions involved with the predicating action. You Were Never Really Here thinks it’s doing well and sets up some beautiful moments but the audience investment is not there. I don’t care about Joe’s experiences in war or in the FBI because the information is scantly shared. It’s really difficult for an audience to care about an issue they don’t know exists… I hate to admit, I fast forwarded through some of the longer shots of just staring at Joaquin’s face.


I had concerns when I saw Joaquin Phoenix was the star of the movie. It’s not the first time I’ve been tricked into watching one of his movies and seeing what they’re really about. I knew that I wouldn’t get what was described on the Amazon page but I gave it a shot anyway. You Were Never Really Here is not an action movie. This is a drama with some intense scenes of action/violence. The movie will bore you to tears if you’re not an adept cinephile that’s specifically into character study films. I’m exaggerating, but only a little. 

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Screenplay: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman

A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

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  • Acting - 7/10
  • Cinematography - 6/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • Setting/Theme - 7/10
  • Buyability - 7/10
  • Recyclability - 1/10
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