"Violent Thriller with a Broken, Mentally Ill Moral Compass"
What You Need To Know:
Based on a novel, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE never lets up the tension. Only a few scenes offer a brief respite from its world of suicidal thoughts, abusive flashbacks, bloody murders, and sexual depravity. Trapped in misery, the protagonist sees a ray of hope through Nina, and vice versa. This comes at a cost. In their broken mental states, they may think their actions are moral, but they’re both murderers who are never held accountable, almost like the bad guys. Along with examples of depravity, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE has a morally conflicted worldview, lots of extreme violence and a fair amount of foul language.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is a violent psychological thriller about a retired veteran who uses his military skills to get revenge on bad guys for kidnapping, killing and abusing women and teenage girls.
Joe lives with his elderly mother in Queens. By day, he tenderly cares for her, helping her polish the silver while singing children’s songs they’ve presumably sung their entire lives together and mopping up the bathroom floor after she makes a mess. By night, however, he finds and rescues teenage girls and is a ruthless killer when required.
Joe seems impervious to guilt over inflicting violence on others, a product of his PTSD condition from his service in Iraq and from a childhood full of abuse. In flashbacks throughout the movie, Joe is shown as a child with a plastic bag over his head in a suicide attempt (still a favorite tactic of his as an adult), although he never has the courage to go through with it. He doesn’t stop at plastic bags and teases death repeatedly with a knife, gun, a subway train, and rocks meant to weigh him down under water.
Joe’s situation seems hopeless. He’s been stuck in a loop of misery all his life, and he’s reluctantly willing to perpetuate it by working for a wealthy New York businessman, John, who acts as a middleman between Joe and his clients. One such client is a high-ranking senator from New York up for re-election. The senator’s concerned about getting his 13-year-old daughter, Nina, back, and instructs Joe to hurt the men who have abused her. She’s a troubled young teenager with a penchant for running away and has landed herself in the middle of an underage sex ring, apparently frequented by the state’s governor. Nina happens to be the governor’s favorite girl, so it’s no surprise when she’s kidnapped right out of Joe’s hands and taken to the governor’s sprawling country mansion.
After what Nina’s experienced and the violence she’s had to witness during her rescue attempt, she and Joe have begun to feel a platonic affection for each other. When news reaches them that her father has committed suicide, Joe’s affection turns protective, and he becomes obsessed with getting her back at all costs. The costs are high as the governor’s men go after him and those he loves.
Joe arrives at the governor’s mansion, hammer in hand, killing anyone in his way. However, he discovers a completely unexpected situation when he finally finds Nina, forcing him to confront the consequences of what he’s done.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is based on a novel by Jonathan Ames. It combines a myriad of directing styles which gives the movie a totally different look and feel from one scene to the next. However, one thing remains steady throughout, and that’s a constant tension that never seems to let up. It’s the manifestation of Joe’s inner turmoil, which is the movie’s primary focus instead of the plot. The different styles don’t detract from the storytelling and oddly fit together nicely. The one thing that is distracting is the sound engineering, which becomes a bit much in several scenes. The filmmakers are apparently trying to convey the claustrophobia of overwhelming noise that overtakes people when they’re in a delicate mental state, but they overdo it in a completely unnecessary fashion.
The movie’s two biggest drawbacks are the violence and worldview. The absolute worst of humanity is on display here, from killing to sexual depravity. Sadness, misery and anger are the predominant emotions conveyed, and for this movie at least, the entire world wallows in them. Only at the very end, do the characters share a glimpse of hope with Nina’s line, “It’s a beautiful day.” It’s a pathetic attempt to right all the wrongs of the previous 90 minutes, which sums up the other troubling morality of this movie. Accountability doesn’t exist in this world, so morality is relative to the individual’s situation. While an objective morality lingers somewhere in the background, the characters seem ambivalent about it, even though they’re deeply affected by the immorality imposed on them throughout their lives.
Also, the movie’s very gory, and there’s lots of it. The violence is accompanied by shots of full male nudity in the brothel, implications of sex with young girls and a fair amount of foul language.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE warrants extreme caution for its excessive moral problems and inappropriate content.