If we would announce a reboot of Taxi Driver, film buffs would be horrified at the idea and festivals would probably not want to even hear of it.
Well, Lynne Ramsay (Rat Catcher, We Need to Talk About Kevin) directed a pretentious sedative titled You Were Never Really Here (and we effectively wish we were elsewhere) from the hopefully better book by Jonathan Ames. This could be dubbed Taxi Driver Too, despite the fact there is no taxi driving. By a miracle of distribution we catch it about 10 months late in North America so we get to write review number 2678.
In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays a war veteran, with obvious suicidal tendencies and a distorted sense of reality, thanks to a dark childhood. It is presented here with the configuration commonly known as flashbacks. Our man is a hired hand specialized in recovering endangered missing teens and he has, believe it or not, homicidal inclinations. So, when he is hired to rescue the 13-year-old daughter of a senator, who fell into a vicious prostitution ring, things may just turn sour. But, as a conspiracy unfold (politicians, Hey!), what is reality and what is fantasy for an individual running in circle?
You Were Never Really Here was (really) in official competition at Cannes 2017, where it (really) won two prizes! Really? For screenplay and male acting (Joaquin Phoenix). Really? President Pedro Almodovar should have focused on what was going on within his jury instead of trying to fight with Netflix all week long…
The acting prize makes one wonder if being filmed walking around like a lost method actor, seemingly wondering where the hell he parked his yellow cab, would get anyone an award if he is not Joaquin Phoenix. True, beside walking, he also stumbles twice or so on whatever is in the way and he wears his now iconic beard. Maybe it is these spectacular nuances (no one stumbles twice or grow a beard like Joaquin does) which flabbergasted the jury of his peers.
Past the promises from the opening minutes, in which she experiments with sound and music, Ramsey’s film sinks in about every departments. It is clearly not mastered as a genre-wise piece, since it is obviously an attempt at some kind of Neo-Noir psycho-thriller. The apparent attempts at suspenseful scenes end up as indolent examples of the genre for numerous reasons. The uneven continuity in lighting is dubious. Some parts are good but we wonder if it is accidental, because it is often followed by what looks like ‘natural’ on location improvised lighting, economically shot for TV. It raises questions on the fuss about Netflix going straight to Internet with some films. Nowadays it is not because it is shown on a big screen that it is Cinema…
The overall audio work, sadly, matches the flaws of the visuals. On location sound is kind of wafer thin, creating a gap with added sound effects. So, when it comes to the studio recorded (and rather good) music score of Johnny Greenwood, it feels like a noisy rescue effort of recovering scenes that basically do not work on any level. It even makes it looks and sounds like the post-production ran out of money.
Beside the excuses of dreamlike and moody treatment of material beyond the conventions of film genres, the screenplay doesn’t make much sense or anything to keep our interest alive. Flashback or dreams can be an easy way to sort out two bits psychology, the main character is simply in no shape for the task, his motivations and inner demons remain unclear, etc, etc
You Were Never Really Here, simply fails psychologically, dramatically, as a thriller or even as an artistic object.