(director/writer: Lynne Ramsay; screenwriter: based on the book by Jonathan Ames; cinematographer: Thomas Townend; editor: Joe Bine; music: Jonny Greenwood; cast: Judith Roberts (Joe’s Mother), Joaquin Phoenix (Joe), Ekaterina Samsonov (Nina), Alessandro Nivola (Governor Williams), Alex Manette (Senator Albert Votto), John Doman(John McCleary); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson, Lynne Ramsay; Amazon Studios; 2017-UK)

“It’s a timeless film to savor.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher“/”Morvern Callar“) directs and writes this creepy but tender, violent, psychological thriller about a hitman at work. It’s based on the 2013 book by Jonathan Ames. The Manhattan-dwelling full bearded and laconic war veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is suffering from PTSD, a head filled with gunshot noises and fireworks going off, and an inclination to commit suicide. The ex-FBI agent supports his cranky elderly mom (Judith Roberts) as a hit man. His new assignment from the boss (John Doman) is to rescue the kidnapped 13-year-old Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the daughter of Sen. Albert Votto (Alex Manette), from a pedophile sex slave ring using her to entertain wealthy pedophile patrons. We will learn later on the governor (Alessandro Nivola) is one of the brothel customers. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides a pulsating score that blends in perfectly with the fierceness of the drama in the streets. Phoenix has nailed the role in a perfectly authentic and nuanced way, wielding a ball-peen hammer to brutally bring down his targets while being compassionate to mom and the teenage vic. Ramsay directs in an engrossing way, pulling it up from a standard thriller to the classic greatness ranks of the similar-themed Taxi Driver. This is an uncompromising and well-made film noir, told with useful flashbacks to fill us in on the backstory. It’s about as good as it gets when it comes to oddball tough-minded psychological dramas. Using minimal dialogue and trying as much as possible to focus on the troubled hitman rather than his acts of violence, the heart of the film centers on the inward awareness and torture of the pained protagonist trying to cope with his predicament. It’s a timeless film to savor, one I might reconsider as a masterpiece with further viewings.