CANNES, France (Reuters) - As a hired killer whose weapon of choice is a particular brand of hammer, Joaquin Phoenix delivered a short, sharp shock of a movie to close the Cannes Film Festival's main competition on Saturday.
"You Were Never Really Here" is a taught, bloody thriller from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay whose reputation is such that she was allowed to enter the movie for the Palme d'Or without showing the selection committee a finished version.
Ramsay, whose last movie, the high school massacre drama "We Need to Talk About Kevin", competed at Cannes in 2011, told reporters she was still editing "You Were Never Really Here", prompting one journalist to beg her not to cut too much from the 85-minute version shown to the press.
"I didn’t want to bore you all at Cannes," said Ramsay whose movies all come in under 90 minutes.
"There’s nothing worse than being at the end of this festival and watching a two-and-a-half-hour-long film that’s (got) self indulgent scenes in it," she said, a description that could apply to many of the films screened this year.
Variety's Guy Lodge, who said Ramsay may be the world's "greatest working filmmaker", called her new film "astonishing ... a stark, sinewy, slashed-to-the-bone hitman thriller far more concerned with the man than the hit".
The film has drawn comparison's with the Martin Scorsese classic "Taxi Driver" due to the moral ambiguity of Phoenix's Joe who, like Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle, is a psychologically damaged military veteran who tries to save a sexually abused girl.
"'Taxi Driver' is probably one of the movies that really made me want to be an actor, a particular type of actor, so I am sure that its influence (was there), but there was no conscious decision to do that (copy De Niro's performance)," Phoenix said, adding: "I thought we were making a comedy."
With a reputation as one of Hollywood's most difficult stars when it comes to dealing with the media, Phoenix was remarkably forthcoming, thanking reporters for coming and staying on for autographs and selfies. During much of the news conference he placed a protective arm around Ramsay and rubbed her shoulders.
Not all critics were glowing about "You Were Never Really Here". Ben Croll of website The Wrap called it "grimly violent and willfully oblique ... more of a collection of accomplished filmmaking moments than a wholly satisfying film".
The Palme d'Or winner will be announced on Sunday when the festival concludes.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Tom Brown