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You Were Never Really Here

A dark and twisted take on the action genre 

© Amazon Studios Unafraid of violence, traumatized veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), takes the dirty jobs. When a job spins out of control, he uncovers a conspiracy leading to what may be his death or his awakening.
      For unsavory jobs, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix: Irrational Man) is the guy to call. The veteran of war, brutality and PTSD is abnormally good at violence.
      The money is good, and his earnings support his elderly mother. Joe, however, is not so good. He suffers constant flashbacks to either his abusive childhood or wartime in the Gulf. 
      His world shifts when he’s hired to save the daughter of a New York state senator from a trafficking ring. Gruff awkward Joe bonds with the girl. When the job goes south, Joe tears through the underbelly of New York, hell-bent on recovering her. 
     Director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is known for making films that can be hard to access, and this one is no exception. Cryptic, brutal and beautiful, it is also challenging; some in the audience said “weird.” Think of it as an arthouse reboot of the Taken franchise. 
      Ramsay’s peculiar brand of storytelling is expressionistic. Don’t expect the plot to be fully explained. She offers vivid glimpses of Joe’s past and present, expecting us to fill in the rest of the story. If you can stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a fascinating story about how violence molds our lives and our futures. 
       This isn’t a movie interested in making violence look cool; Ramsay shows its horror. Yet camera work is beautiful, with expert framing and action sequences that dance around violence. Sound design is artful, with highlighted bits of dialogue and noise ratcheting up the tension and explaining Joe’s tortured perception of the world. 
      Phoenix is fascinating, lumbering through scenes with a ballpeen hammer clenched in his fist. His Joe is terrifying yet endearing. He’s clearly lost, and basic human interaction is hard for him. But he follows his own strict moral code. 
       If you’re interested in a meditation on violence, trauma and obsession, You Were Never Really Here might be for you.
Great Action • R • 89 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Avengers: Infinity War
       Just arrived on Earth, intergalactic super villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) plans to kill half of humanity, enslave the rest and collect the infinity stones that offer him ultimate power. 
      To stop him, this nearly unprecedented melding of film franchises brings together every member of the Marvel extended universe.
       This also means all your favorite superheroes will be short-changed because there’s no way to develop 30 characters in one film. But like all the Avengers movies, this is about spectacle, not plot or character. 
       If you’re not a fan of Marvel films, you may want to stay away from the movie house this weekend. No one wants to compete against this juggernaut.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 149 mins.