Dir: Lynne Ramsay | Writer: Jonathan Ames| Lynne Ramsay | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman | Thriller | 95min
New York is the setting of Lynne Ramsay’s claustrophobic psychodrama about a troubled soul who brings his abusive past to bear in his work as a hit man. Featuring a tortured performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it glimpses a world much darker and more sordid that the woozy snapshot we are shown: Ramsay is more interested in probing the inner workings of her character’s mind than focusing on the sordid underworld of ‘private security’.
Adapted from a story by American writer Jonathan Ames whose damaged Joe would have us believe there is a righteous place in the world for him that is hitherto undiscovered, the damaged Travis Bickle-like loner and former soldier is tasked with rescuing a teenager whose wealthy father wants to avoid contact with the authorities. Teenager Nina (a fragile Ekaterina Samsonov) is the daughter of minor politician Votto (Alex Manette), a sidekick in Alessandro Nivola’s election campaign for senator, and has been lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Joe is tasked with getting the teen back to Votto, in a local hotel. But the scheme goes awry when other criminal elements infiltrate the ring and the film descends into a hazy contemplation of Joe’s broken psyche that gradually melds with the ambiant violence of the botched release.
Ramsay’s effort to blend a crime thriller with claustrophobic character study is a brave one that feels much more nuanced and tuned-out than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and certainly lacks the resonance and gutsy sense of time and place. That said, it’s a well-crafted drama with an auteurish, almost poetic feel that contrasts impressively with the stark stabs of savage violent that punctuate this twisted drama. MT
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION