Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a stylized take on the oft-told tale of a violent man who does violent things for money yet who finds possible redemption in the form of a cherubic young blonde girl, anchored by Joaquin Phoenix’s most damaged characterization since The Master. Joe (Phoenix) is a deeply troubled veteran who lives alone with his elderly mother (Judith Roberts), and their potentially Norma-and-Norman Bates relationship is wisely acknowledged in the opening scenes by having her watch Psycho on television.
Shell-shocked from war and from life itself, and tormented by flashbacks — some of which may have even happened in real life — Joe engages in non-erotic asphyxiation and other acts of self-destruction when he’s not tracking down kidnapped girls for hire. Assigned to rescue the cherubic young blonde daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov) of a senator (Alex Manette), Joe’s already-questionable grasp on reality gets looser when the senator is killed. Joe begins to uncover a conspiracy involving the police and the government, and probably the draco-reptilians, though even Joe’s fractured brain doesn’t go that quite high up the paranoia ladder. Nothing is as it seems in You Were Never Really Here, but the one constant of its world is banal pop music playing from radios. That’s enough to make anyone question reality.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema