The new film by Lynne Ramsay released on 9th March is exactly what its genre needed: engaging, thrilling, and a psychologically deep alternative to the action-driven and clichéd characters of more mainstream thrillers.

The plot follows hit-man Joe, Joaquin Phoenix, a man doing everyone’s dirty work, while taking care of his elderly mother in his spare time. One day, a senator’s young daughter Nina goes missing, and the father suspects that she has been abducted by a sex trafficker. It all seems pretty straightforward. Joe finds the missing girl, but things take an unexpected twist when he finds himself in an uneasy situation.

Created through vivid contrasts, the film’s tone is beautifully weighted. Johnny Greenwood’s other-worldly sound design evokes mystery and strangeness, to contrast the feeling of safety created by the vinyl tracks played by Joe’s mother. The colour scheme also correlates with both the warmness of the family home and the coldness and brutality of Joe’s profession. Although, as is typical of thrillers, it has a dark undertone, threads of light pierce the dark to create a realistic and eerie atmosphere.

Ramsay managed to pace plot points efficiently to create a packed story, which is both deeply layered and immediately engaging. The film is less than two hours long, but is neither found wanting nor overwhelming in action and dialogue. Throughout the film we see flashbacks to Joe’s past, which help form the narrative.

The film is dark and brutal. It is thrilling and plot driven, yet deep and meaningful. Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning performance lends wings to the rest of the film. In fact, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ received a a seven-minute-long standing ovation at the Cannes Festival. If that does not convince you to watch it, then I don’t know what will.