British filmmaker Lynne Ramsay returns with this concise, poetic and violent drama in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a troubled US war veteran.

With this impressionistic and often daringly enigmatic thriller taken from a short novel by Jonathan Ames, British filmmaker Lynne Ramsay is back on top form with a vengeance – quite literally, though that emotion is not hers but part of the story. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ centers on burly, big-bearded, taciturn hitman Joe, whom we encounter in the opening scene already carrying out a contract – though we never find out who’s the victim or what it’s all about.

The story occasionally takes its time over small moments – Joe singing along affectionately with his mother – but elsewhere it suddenly proceeds in rapid fits and starts, rushing through a series of deaths with barely a pause for breath. If one is left a little in the dark as to what’s happened and why, no matter, as the execution is so assured that one simply goes with the flow of striking, suggestive images.

In All this may bring to mind ‘Taxi Driver’, but Ramsay’s film is very different. Not wanting to distract us with the precise details of the storyline, or those of the world Joe inhabits, she focuses instead on his inner life. She uses Phoenix’s subtly expressive face and body language, a complex soundtrack, an elastic editing style and Thomas Townend’s wonderful cinematography to evoke his fragile, sometimes surprisingly tender, sometimes ruthless state of mind.Ramsay’s film gives mere visual and aural hints as to Joe’s backstory, motives, and character.‘You Were Never Really Here’ comes some years after Ramsay’s uneven ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and her aborted involvement with ‘Jane Got a Gun’ – making it a reminder of a very distinctive directorial talent as well as a hugely audacious, imaginative and movie.