1 Hr., 30 Mins.
You Were Never Really Here / Disobedience November 27, 2018
1 Hr., 53 Mins.
This veneer of normalcy is partially obscuring, though. Joe, who was previously involved with the military and the FBI, is a hitman. His specialty is offing men involved in sex-trafficking, usually with a fresh hammer. Suicidal thoughts and violent fantasies are always lurking in his mind.
In You Were Never Really Here, the new film from the writer-director Lynne Ramsay, Joe is hired to assist Albert (Alex Manette), an understandably dismal New York senator. The latter, overcome with worry and desperation, is offering a large sum of money in the name of rescuing his daughter, a 13-year-old named Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), who has been kidnapped by the aforementioned traffickers and may be being flaunted at an affluence-attracting brothel across town.
You Were Never Really Here is an adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ short story of the same name, and it is a muffled, clear-eyedly dejected study of a comprehensively scourged man. In a change of pace for the crime thriller, a genre in which hitmen, more often than not, essentially work as smoother variants of the louche who stand in the way of a more-acceptably valorous protagonist, the feature is sympathetic toward someone whom we are not used to sympathizing with. It turns out that a hired gun can make for a compelling subject, so long as the head-pancaking violence is inflicted on someone whose business is more heinous than the gore which helps shatter that business.
Ramsay, who is prone to centering her films around difficult moral quandaries and even-more-difficult characters, skillfully writes and directs. Primarily, the movie seeks to, no pun intended, hammer away at Joe’s psyche, and the neuroses which dance about it. But subordinately, You Were Never Really Here is a conventional (but not quite) story of revenge. Later in the feature, the tables are turned, and Joe’s mission is no longer quite as at an arm’s length as it used to be. Ramsay animates the tallied storylines with thrilling certainty; that the film is only about 80 minutes (if you shave off the time allotted for the closing credits) is astonishing, given how much of an emotional-cum-intellectual wallop it packs.
It is in the performance of Phoenix, though, that the movie’s invigorating brand of despair is realized to its fullest. The ending of You Were Never Really Here establishes that he is, in spite of the torrent of misery that engulfed him for almost the entirety of the first and second acts, perhaps renewed. But Phoenix, in sad-eyed introvert mode, makes us doubtful that the quasi-happy ending on which the feature lands will stick around.
n some ways, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), the brawny, hirsute 40-something-year-old hero of You Were Never Really Here (2018), is as unexceptional as his name. He still lives in his childhood home, where he rooms with and cares for his ailing, dementia-stricken mother (Judith Roberts). He often spends lazy days in bed, watching television. He’s anonymous, easily blending into the shadows of the bustling streets and restaurants of New York.
he happy — make that bittersweet — ending that colors the excellent romantic drama Disobedience (2018) will, in contrast, be marked as transformative rather than temporary. The one showcased is among my favorite kind in the melancholia-washed rom-dram: the sort that involves the central couple separating, but in an ambiguous way that hints that their story, in fact, not might be complete.
The couple in Disobedience, Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to last year’s A Fantastic Woman, is made up of two characters — Ronit and Esti — who are played by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, respectively. In the film, their romance is birthed after a period of separation. Both grew up in a London-based, Orthodox Jewish community, and in their youths, they were friends and briefly lovers.
In adulthood, their paths have diverged. Ronit has left the community, where her father is a powerful rabbi, and has embarked on a career as a photographer in New York. Esti, by contrast, stayed, and has married Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the rabbi’s protege.
As Disobedience opens, though, the rabbi dies, which leads Ronit, who has cultivated something of a bad reputation during her time away, to come home, thinking she will just stay for the funeral. But upon getting reacquainted with Esti, after the latter and Dovid invite Ronit to stay at their house, the flame of days past reignites. The women, whose lives are rather unfulfilling, are inspirited to explore whether the return of their evanescent romance will be more than ephemeral this time around.
This, at first look, appears to be a classic forbidden love story — a channeler of the Oscar-baiting tragic romance where all is doomed but at least the affair, while it lasted, was glorious. But Disobedience, gradationally written by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, isn’t a coddler of genred, weepy orthodoxies. The romance is tangibly passionate; Weisz and McAdams have believable, knife-edged chemistry; and the histrionics are never overblown or uneasy.
Most becoming about the movie is not necessarily the romance, but rather how the romance makes for an impetus for these people to reach new mini-climaxes in their lives. Esti comes to understand that, regardless of whether she ends up pursuing a relationship with Ronit, she cannot continue on the way she has for so long: her life is so tightly controlled by her denial of her sexuality, and repression in other places. Ronit looks inward, specifically at her casual, oft-materialistic lifestyle, and rethinks what she’s come to know about herself. Dovid ponders whether the in-the-making next act of his life — that of a depended-on rabbi — is one he actually desires.
The best moment in Disobedience, then, is its climax. Without revealing too much about it — it is arguably the film’s most stirring scene — a sermon is delivered, by Dovid, that acts as a courageous, makeshift balm to the adversity seen so far. Second, though, is the much-talked-about sex scene, which, like the one found in another fine work of LGBTQIA+ cinema, Desert Hearts (1985), is so tactfully acted and staged that it rings as life-altering, not exploitive or gratuitous. But, then again, there is little — perhaps nothing — about Disobedience, akin to You Were Never Really Here, that is gratuitous. Lelio, like Ramsay, is a storyteller who knows how to make the emotions go aflutter without pandering to the overwrought.
You Were Never Really Here: A-