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  • by Wes Singleton

You Were Never Really Here, A-


Rated R, 90 minutes

I will tell you upfront, the new crime drama "You Were Never Really Here" isn't for everyone. Brutal and tough to watch, it's also pulsating, hypnotic and features one of the year's best performances. Directed and written by Lynne Ramsay ("We Need to Talk About Kevin"), the powerful film, takes many cues from Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" yet standing on its own just fine, is a must-see.

Joe (Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix), a traumatized veteran and unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job involving a senator's daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov of "Wonderstruck") spins out of control, Joe's nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

Phoenix's committed, ferocious performance as the contract killer will stay with you after you see the dark and disturbing "You Were Never Really Here," which could easily figure into awards consideration, though it's very, very early to mention that. The film, which won awards at last year's Cannes Film Festival for Ramsay's screenplay and for Phoenix's incredible turn and is one of his best to date, is based on Jonathan Ames' novel of the same name.

Russian model and actress Samsonov, seen in last year's "Wonderstruck," provides some tender texture to Phoenix's brute, and they play off each other nicely. Also memorable is the award-worthy music from musician Jonny Greenwood, who was Oscar-nominated for his score in "Phantom Thread" and is deserving of another nod here; the pulsating music adds heft, particularly in the bloody climax.

At times, "You Were Never Really Here" seems too perfectly constructed, and many, many characters are taken out in the blink of an eye. I wanted to know much more about Joe's odd, mentally unstable mother (the wonderful Judith Roberts from "Orange is the New Black") or his boss (John Doman), who has a bloody nose and speaks of boats.

The bloody ending may take you by surprise, but then, it may not, either, but Ramsay handles it beautifully. Both she and Phoenix do a superb job with "You Were Never Really Here," which is just as disturbing as it is thought-provoking. If you have a list of must-see films, add this one to it.

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