Lyn Ramsey’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar) latest grips you in its sweaty fist and doesn’t let up until the final frame. It’s enigmatic, intense and artful, filling each frame with the lumbering presence of Joaquin Phoenix.
As the film begins, we are launched right into the aftermath of something bloody as Joe (Phoenix) cleans up. It takes awhile to find out who he is and what he does; woven with flashbacks of his own traumatic past, we see that he is a man for hire to track down abducted girls. We see his indomitable strength and relentless purpose and through a staccato, discordance soundtrack, we understand the chaos in his head.
His next job is to find the missing daughter of a state senator and he tracks Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) to a high-class brothel. This is where things start to come undone as Joe realises there are powerful forces at work.
This is a vehicle for Phoenix and Ramsey keeps us claustrophobically close to his grizzled visage as we see every thought and moment of trauma. We are deliberately fed only tiny morsels of his past so for a long time he is as enigmatic as his quest. These add up though to someone who is badly damaged, someone struggling to maintain a purpose to stay alive.
It’s an intense experience, full of brutality and pain but not so much about narrative violence, in fact often the camera draws away from the gore to show us Joe. There are scenes that will be hard to forget; dense in their meaning and uncomfortable to watch but resonant with juxtapositions of music and emotion. Joe’s ferocity sits alongside gentleness that shows, perhaps, his understanding of pain and despair. And ultimately this film is about Joe and his survival.
The ending is delicate and sustained. It’s reminded me of the final scene in Call Me By Your Name, a forced meditation on a moment and a person. Beautiful.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.