A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that You Were Never Here is a bleak, violent film about a vigilante (Joaquin Phoenix) who exacts justice on those who kidnap girls to be forced into child prostitution. Expect brutal, bloody scenes in which he uses his hammer on the kidnappers, as well as shootings (one up close) and evidence of torture. The violence is intended to be realistic and upsetting, and it is. There's also strong language, including "f--k." It's all very cinematically and emotionally effective, but the movie is far too intense for most younger viewers.
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What's the story?
In YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) -- a veteran who suffered trauma both during war and as a law-enforcement officer afterward -- now makes his living rescuing kidnapped girls and making the perpetrators pay, violently, with a hammer. Joe lives with and cares for his elderly mother (Judith Roberts) and is haunted by disturbing memories of their family's past. When Joe is hired to find the daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov) of a state senator, the case takes a sharp, violent turn that might be more than he can handle. Adapted from Jonathan Ames' novella, director/writer Lynne Ramsay's dramatic thriller won awards at Cannes for Phoenix's performance and Ramsay's writing.
Is it any good?
Ramsay is at the height of her filmmaking powers here, maximizing the impact of her brutal story. Phoenix is ideally cast as a force that's unstoppable until the big case breaks his momentum. You Were Never Really Here is anything but your standard noir thriller. It's not focused on solving a big mystery, and it doesn't have any of the other trappings of the genre. And despite its savagery, it's definitely not about fetishizing violence. This film is about the dark, twisting journey of Joe's soul as he tries to function in a world without justice. Phoenix's committed, unadorned work feels authentic. You feel you're with him, sensing all along that this can't turn out well. And as the kidnapped girl, young Samsonov is extremely effective. She keeps you guessing as to exactly how she's coming out of this tunnel of horrors.
Ramsay won a screenplay award at Cannes for the film, and the script is admirably pared down, if a touch confusing at times. But her directorial command is even more impressive. Her collaboration with cinematographer Thomas Townend (known for music videos), editor Joe Bini (known for documentary work), and veteran sound designer Paul Davies results in a distinctive experience that's rife with texture and emotion. The outstanding score by Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood) veers from electronic beats to treated guitars to piano bass notes that are struck so hard you can practically feel the hammers on the strings. Ramsay brings all these elements together to take you inside Joe. She shows us exactly what she wants us to see, and when. After we've witnessed Joe in action, we skip the next round of fatal beatings to move on to what's most important. The filmmaker of We Need to Talk About Kevin is as unsentimental in her approach as her main character is in his. She explores the life of a person who would do what Joe does without getting bogged down in talk or set pieces. It all feels real, and it makes a very strong impression.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Joe's actions in You Were Never Really Here. Is this type of vigilante justice understandable? Excusable? Is Joe a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
What genre does the movie fall into? Why do you say that, or how can you tell?
Do you think there's hope for the characters in the end?
- In theaters: April 6, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: July 17, 2018
- Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Alessandro Nivola, Ekaterina Samsonov
- Director: Lynne Ramsay
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, language, and brief nudity
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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