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You Were Never Really Here review: Joaquin Phoenix searches for a missing teen in brutal thriller

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A meaty Joaquin Phoenix is the muscle in this lean, mean and brutal thriller.

The three times Oscar nominee is extraordinary blunt force of nature as a hammer-wielding man on a mission, searching for the missing teenage daughter of a US senator.

The Walk The Line star is Joe, a bearded and ponytailed anti-hero offered 50K for successfully closing the case, which includes a stipulation to hurt the people responsible.

15-year-old Ekaterina Samsonov is almost wordless as the victim, a pale frail presence with surprising strength of mind.

And 83-year-old Judith Roberts plays Joe’s mischievous and free spirited but physically dependent mum. Their scenes offer the few moments of grace and humour in an otherwise dark and intense affair.

Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, hired to hunt for a missing teenage girl

Joaquin Phoenix and Judith Roberts as Joe and his mother, sharing a touching moment

Joe gets rough with the police as events turn very nasty

The violence has a punch-in-the-gut reality and at times I struggled to keep my dinner down.

With the war veteran driving through a landscape of politicians, paedophiles and prostitution, this is a stripped down and updated riff on Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver.

Glaswegian director Lynne Ramsay never romanticises her characters, and shows us doing very bad things for a good cause is a soul-stripping exercise.

Her previous films included Ratcatcher and We Need To Talk About Kevin, and this is no less harrowing or demanding to watch.

Nor does she make allowances for her audience, she expects us to keep up to speed and refuses to hold our hand or explain events a second time. Her bold creative choices are a very pure form of cinema and make for a anxiety driven and jittery experience.

An extraordinary soundtrack by Johnny Greenwood underscores how the Radiohead guitarist was robbed at last weeks Oscars for his work on Daniel Day-Lewis’ drama, Phantom Thread.

Nasty, nihilistic and nightmarish, this is tight as piano wire and twice as deadly. Suffocation is a recurring image and for long periods I could barely breathe.

  • Movie Name You Were Never Really Here
  • Year: 2018
  • Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
  • Running time: 90 mins
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts

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