FlixChatter Review: You Were Never Really Here (2018)

Lynne Ramsay’s movie making career could’ve ended after she abruptly quit Jane’s Got A Gun and sued that movie’s producers. That kind of public dispute between a director and producers probably would’ve ended many filmmakers’ career in Hollywood. But after a seven-year hiatus, Ramsay is back with another dark-themed film that could put her career back on track.

As the film begins, we see Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) finishing up some sort of a task and we later found out he’s rescued a kidnapped child from some very dangerous people. With small clips of flashbacks, we learned that Joe is a disturbed person who has a rough childhood. As a grown-up, his career as a military man also scarred him. He keeps hearing the voices of the dead people he’d witnessed while in the service and constantly contemplates suicide. The only thing that keeps him going now is caring for his elderly mother (Judith Roberts). To earn a living, he uses his special skills to rescue young children from sex traffickers. For his next job, his handler John (John Doman) tells him that a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped and he’s willing to pay big bucks to get her back. Joe took the job and was able to locate the senator’s daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). But once Joe rescued Nina, things went south quickly, and he realized he’s in over his head and some very powerful people wants him dead.

Based on the short novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames, Ramsay who also wrote the screenplay, kept the story solely on Joe’s point of view and his thoughts. Some scenes played out like a dream and other times, it’s something from Joe’s memory. This is my first time seeing Ramsay’s work and I do like her style. She’s obviously channeling the films of Kubrick, Malick and especially Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. In fact, some might call it a Taxi Driver for the 21st century. While I agree these two films shared similarities, I do think Scorsese’s version is a much better film. I’ve never read the book version, so I don’t know how faithful it is to the source material, but I felt like Ramsay could’ve expanded the story a bit more and give us some details of what’s really going on. I understand this is more of a character study, but I would’ve liked to see more characters’ involvement and thicker plot. I felt like when the plot finally gets going, the film is almost over. Now, maybe I think Ramsay just didn’t want to tell a straight-up revenge action thriller story and went the opposite of what was expecting. I respect her decision, but I still prefer to see story expanded a little bit more.

Performance wise, Phoenix is very good as the silent and violent character. He tends to mumble a bit too much though. It wasn’t an over the top performance and I appreciate that. He’s pretty on the screen 100% of the time and he kept my attention. The supporting characters didn’t have much to do since the story is all about Joe, but I did like Roberts’ and Samsonov’s performances.

I also have to give praises to Jonny Greenwood’s excellent score and Tom Townsend’s great cinematography. I thought the haunting score and beautiful cinematography really helped the film.

I really had high hopes for this film and even though it didn’t meet my expectations, it’s still a solid thriller. I found it to be a frustrating film but admired Ramsay for not going the generic thriller route. Maybe with a better screenplay, it could’ve been something special.

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So have you seen You Were Never Really Here? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Ok, firstly a confession: this is my intro to Paul Thomas Anderson (known as PTA to cinephiles). Secondly: It’s a film I appreciate but not love. Wait, what? Yes I know, this film has garnered unanimous adulation. Critics as well as fellow filmmaker I know (including my short film director) calling it exquisite, masterpiece, sublime.

Now, I don’t disagree with them. On a technical level, the film is superb. Even the story is intriguing, impossibly elegant and mysterious. The painstaking attention to detail is amazing and amazingly-stylish, which is fitting considering it’s a film about an obsessive fashion designer.

On an emotional level however, it just doesn’t resonate with me. It feels like a cold film. Perhaps it’s intentional and perhaps PTA himself intentionally kept viewers at arms’ length, as that’s how the film’s protagonist Reynolds Woodcock keeps his lovers. Played with elegance aloofness by Daniel Day-Lewis, it made me wish he isn’t serious about retiring.

Even playing such an unlikable character, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing. There’s something so precise about his acting, and being a method actor that he is, he makes you believe he is whoever he is playing. But equally mesmerizing is Vicky Krieps as Alma, who’s pretty much Day-Lewis’ equal. It’s fitting given that Alma’s pretty much Reynold’s equal despite her initial meek demeanor. I haven’t seen miss Krieps before, but the Luxembourg-born actress has quite a resume. I just wish there’s more to her character, it’d be more interesting to see more of her backstory.

This is the kind of film that makes you ponder for days. What is it about exactly? There are many themes being explored here, and one that comes to mind immediately is obsession, specifically Reynold’s obsession with perfection. But he’s also a narcissist, a mama’s boy and frankly, a demanding big baby in terms of how he conducts his work. Everything has to be just so–no noise on the table as he eats his breakfast–or his entire day would be ruined.

He seems obsessed with Alma likely because she’s nurturing, yet she’s also headstrong like his loyal sister Cyrill. The always-reliable Lesley Manville is perfectly icy cool as Cyrill. There’s one particular scene between Cyrill and Reynolds that’s quite funny. The few darkly comedic scenes didn’t exactly offer respite from the gloomy spirit of the film however. I likened it to a chilly, windy, foggy day in London, perfectly tinged with melancholy.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this film as much was because I sat on the front row at the screening, so it was uncomfortable having to tip my head back the entire time to watch it. I don’t know if I would feel differently on second viewing, this isn’t something I’m keen on rewatching. Though it may appear like a romance drama, the film isn’t particularly romantic. It’s elegant yes, and tantalizing at times, but not really romantic. As I mentioned in my Shape of Water review, I love films that connect with me emotionally and this one didn’t really do that.

Despite my quibbles, I still give it high marks because I think it’s competently-done. PTA also did the cinematography on this and shot it on 35mm hence the rather-grainy quality. There’s not a lot of action in the film, but yet PTA made even the seemingly mundane act of sewing, cutting fabric, and especially cooking, so intriguing… and suspenseful. You won’t ever see mushroom the same way again after this. The style and camerawork suits the narrative and period well, complemented by Jonny Greenwood‘s evocative score. He’s a composer I’m also not familiar with, but his music here adds a hypnotic quality to the film.

So yeah, I can see why people admire PTA’s work and I’m glad I finally got to see one of his films. My film friends have all suggested that I check out his previous films, so I’ll do that eventually as I’m especially intrigued by Magnolia. As for this one, well I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, it’s certainly a good looking film.


So did you see Phantom Thread? Let me know what YOU think!