****/**** Image B+ Sound A
starring Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola
screenplay by Lynne Ramsay, based on the book by Jonathan Ames
directed by Lynne Ramsay
by Walter Chaw It opens with a child's voice saying that he must do better. It's dark. The first image is of a man trying to breathe inside a plastic bag. This is your everyday Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), and this is how director Lynne Ramsay lets us know that he's disturbed. We know he's dangerous, too, because she shows him cleaning the head of a ball-peen hammer and flushing bloody towels down a hotel-room toilet in a visceral call-back to the nightmare's resolution in The Conversation. All of You Were Never Really Here is a nightmare: a vision of the United States presented by a foreign artist who sees America in the truest way since Wim Wenders's pictures about violence, Edward Hopper (whom Ramsey uses as a touchstone, too), and the state of the American dream state. When she evokes "Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1" (a.k.a. Whistler's Mother), capturing Joe's mother (Judith Roberts) in profile through a window as her son goes to collect some bounty, it's sad in the ineffable way that great art can be in just a pass, a glance. Ramsey's picture is about the toll of violence on the violator and the victim in equal measure. In moments, she recreates Michael Mann's urban veneers--nowhere more so than during the title sequence, whose soundtrack evokes not only that halcyon period in the '80s when Tangerine Dream seemed to be scoring all the best movies, but also the band specifically in how their best scores were about the repetitive urgency of work. Jonny Greenwood's music for You Were Never Really Here provides subtext, texture, and emotional geography. It reminds of Jon Brion's work on Punch-Drunk Love. In a lot of ways, that PT Anderson film, in its discussion of a disturbed and volatile young man finding purpose and acceptance, is this picture's closest analogue.