Belfast Telegraph

You Were Never Really Here: Troubled loner on a path to hell


Heroic deeds: Ekaterina Samsonov and Joaquin Phoenix
Heroic deeds: Ekaterina Samsonov and Joaquin Phoenix
Old school: Stephen Graham (left) and Dave Johns

By Damon Smith

In 1999, writer-director Lynne Ramsay made an auspicious feature film debut with Ratcatcher, an unsettling coming-of-age story set in 1970s Glasgow at the height of the dustmen's strike.

While other filmmakers would have capitalised on this success by rushing headlong into a new project, Ramsay bided her time, seeking out challenging material that tapped into universal themes of grief and desperation.

In 2002, she delivered a stylish and emotionally raw adaptation of Alan Warner's novel Morvern Callar and almost a decade later, she documented the aftermath of a senseless high school massacre from the perspective of the teenage perpetrator's guilt-stricken mother in We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Thankfully, we have only had to wait six years for her fourth feature.

Based on Jonathan Ames' novella of the same title, You Were Never Really Here is a brutal and unflinching revenge thriller, which allows Ramsay to plumb the murky depths of the human condition on the mean streets of modern-day New York.

Traumatised war veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) wrestles with an addiction to painkillers and dulls memories of the people he couldn't save while working for the FBI.

Joe accepts a meeting with Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), whose teenage daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) is missing.

The politician has received a tip-off by text that she is a sex slave in a brothel located in a neighbourhood of Manhattan. He offers Joe a large sum of money to rescue Nina and dole out suitable punishment.

Phoenix delivers a fearless and, at times, heartbreaking performance as a broken man, whose quest for redemption seems to be leading him down the road to hell.

Four stars

Walk Like A Panther: Wrestling comedy lacks real punch

First-time writer-director Dan Cadan tries - and sadly fails - to recapture the glory of a bygone wrestling era in this Yorkshire-set comedy.

The film's overly sentimental heart is in the right place, bringing together a homegrown cast for a tale of triumph against adversity and unerring community spirit that echoes the emotional beats of The Full Monty.

During the 1980s, Trevor "Bulldog" Bolton (Dave Johns) and his stable of wrestling demigods - the Panthers - pulled in a TV audience of millions with their daredevil, lycra-clad antics inside the ring.

The cancellation of wrestling on ITV in 1988 sounded the death knell for Trevor and co, who hung up their leotards to concentrate on raising families.

Thirty years later, Trevor's son Mark (Stephen Graham) is landlord of the pub, The Half Nelson, which is the epicentre of community life.

When scheming brewery manager Paul Peterson (Stephen Tompkinson) vows to sell the land to a local developer, Mark hurriedly co-ordinates a fundraising evening of tag-team wrestling to keep the bulldozers from the front door.

Walk Like A Panther limps from the opening frames. Graham, Johns and the cast give their all, especially in physically demanding sequences, but the faltering script grossly short-changes everyone.

Visual and verbal gags that do connect, like a hairdressing salon called Spartacuts where customers are greeted with a hale and hearty "Hail scissors!", are notable by their depressing paucity.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph


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