You Were Never Really Here 

Unlike a lot of up and coming directors  who toil at the coalface of indie cinema hoping their no-budget, hand-tooled labour of love will attract enough critical heat on the festival and art-house circuit to catapault them higher up the big-budget mainstream food chain, director Lynn Ramsay has steadfastly avoided the temptation to become mere grist to the mill of multiplex pap. Back in March of 2013 a "creative differences" impasse with the producers of the Natalie Portman Western Jane Got A Gun led her to abandon the project just three days before the start of principal photography. 

You Were Never Really Here finds Ramsay back in her aesthetic wheelhouse again sifting through the bruised psyche of a protagonist whose tenuous grip on reality has stranded him on the same emotional precipice that his hapless counterparts from Ramsay's earlier films -Ratcatcher,  Morvern Callar and We Need To Talk About Kevin - occupied. Adapted from Jonathan Ames' short novella, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as the arbitrarily-named Joe, a dishevelled, PTSD-crippled former Marine and FBI agent ekeing out an existence as a hammer-wielding muscle for hire specialising in rescuing young girls from the clutches of sex traffickers. When a prominent New York senator hires him to find his kidnapped daughter, Joe is plunged deep into a lethal, coiling miasma of corruption and double cross that threatens to engulf him, the young child and even his invalid mother. 

While the premise and the accompanying air-brushed poster allude to the kind of film one would expect to find on an action hero's resume, the opening sequence quickly confirms that Ramsay is primarily interested in subverting and deconstructing the genre rather than pledging fealty to its familar tropes. With his unkempt hair, beard and flabby physique, Joe may not be anybody's idea of a knight in shining armour but his violent and bloody nocturnal journey through the city's cesspools is every bit as rivetting as that undertaken by one Travis Bickle some forty years ago. The performance justifiably won Phoenix the best actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival while Ramsay's serpentine screenplay shared the best screenplay award with Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing  Of A Sacred Deer. This is the kind of work that should be winning Oscars.