Joaquin Phoenix is back on the big screen in his latest film from Amazon Studios, You Were Never Really Here. In the film, Phoenix plays Joe, a man who despite suffering from some major PTSD from his upbringing and the traumatic events he suffered while in the military, works a guy who hunts down missing girls and brings them home. The premise sounds simple enough and the trailer gears the audience up for what looks like it will be an action film along the same lines as Taken. Does it live up to it's teased hype? Let's break it down and see.
Joe is a strange guy with a strange job. He is saddled with taking care of his ailing mother all the while being this badass tracker by night to pay the bills. We know he comes from an abusive childhood where his father basically used to torture his family with a ball peen hammer. Now as an adult he hunts down those who hurt children with his weapon of choice...you guessed it a ball peen hammer. It is clear Joe is not messing around. The problem? Joe is nuts. While he is doing the right thing helping find these missing girls, he is just barely holding his own sanity together and each case seems to push him closer to the ledge. We see many instances of him sitting in a closet with a bag over his head almost wishing for death to take him. It is probably the one thing that makes him so good at his job and that is that if you aren't afraid to die, then what really is there to be afraid of when you are hunting criminals?
The film is based on the book by Jonathan Ames and personally, I feel like maybe you would have taken away a lot more of this story from the book. There are a lot of times in the film where it would be nice to be inside Joe's head just to know what this unexpressive man is thinking. The film almost shoots itself in the foot by relying on Phoenix's emotional performance too much, especially when half of the film is just him brooding. We never get too deep into anything he is thinking. It makes it sometimes hard to connect with his character and to cheer him on. With films like Taken, you can relate to a father hunting down the men that kidnapped his daughter. We understand the emotion and desperation he is feeling. With Joe though it tends to be more of a grey area that the audience just has to guess at much of the time. He takes care of his mom, but it seems that the stress from doing that his whole life is almost too much. He fights for these young girls safety, but is he doing it because he genuinely cares or is it just a way to channel the emotions and feelings he gets from his abusive father? We don't really know. Not to say Phoenix doesn't give a great performance in this film, but I just we could have made use of his talents a little more with the story.
The story itself it vaguely predictable. I felt the film spent too much time on the little things that seemed less important in the grand scheme of the movie. Do we really need to watch Joe clean up the floor after his mom spills a bunch of water? Do we need to see him just staring off into the distance so much? The hard part of the movie is waiting for the action to happen and when it finally does it is fairly short-lived. The climax of the film takes place in about the span of 5 minutes. How can you have a bad ass trailer and poster and then only gives us 5 minutes of ass kicking? There were two minutes of ass-kicking in the trailer alone. It just feels like the audience may have been cheated out of what we expected to see.
Overall, this is just an okay film. I scored it with a C. It is not Phoenix's greatest work, but it watchable. Despite the fact that I felt there were times when Joe really wasn't all there even though I showed up to watch. Maybe wait for this one to hit your streaming service of choice.
You can check out You Were Never Really Here on April 20th at Houston-Area Edwards theater.