‘Joker’ was directed by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a very lonely mentally afflicted person who lives with and cares for his mother who is also mentally ill. He dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, watching his favorite late-night host (played by Robert DeNiro) every night. He lives a relatively sad life, but after one bad day (or in this case, perhaps a lifetime of bad) Fleck begins to be noticed and is driven to take on the persona of the Joker.
When you hear that DC is making an R-Rated Joker film, it would appear on the surface level to be a bit much. Mainly because it’s the first of it’s kind to tell an entire story about the villain. What elevates this film to becoming an auteurs classic by Todd Phillips is its amazing performance by Phoenix and its deep nuanced storytelling. It’s a brash confrontation of what this world is becoming and gives a stark warning of what is to come if we don’t start treating each other with more kindness, and care for each other.
I am a HUGE Batman fan and it’s nearly impossible to separate that in my review. I loved the joker in every iteration (Ceasar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, heck even a little soft spot for Jared Leto’s version) specifically due to his non-origin beginnings that make him such an elusive and scary figure. They did a fantastic job showing this back with ‘The Dark Knight’ with the late Heath Ledgers performance. He was a mad dog with nobody to hold him back so knowing that in ‘Joker’ this would be an origin story to me went completely against what the character was. Not ONLY this, but the story wouldn’t be from any of the source material, and it’s own original concept by who else? The director of THE HANGOVER!
I was completely immersed from the first scene of the movie to the last. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance carries the film to a new era of comic book film-making, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The film is set in the ’80s in Gotham (very similar looking to New York of the ’70s) but eerily timely in what we see from Gotham’s people related to how we treat each other in today’s society. Yes, ‘Joker’ is a “We live in a society” kind of movie, but rather than tell you about the monster that we all choose to ignore in our world, Todd Phillips opens the closet door and throws you in with it. Whether you choose to open your eyes and confront it is completely left to the audience.
Lets first talk about Phoenix, who is absolutely transformative in the role. He deserves nominations, wins, whatever he wants as long as he eats a damn sandwich (Pheonix reportedly lost 50 lbs for the role). Phoenix gave, in my opinion, the performance of his career as Arthur Fleck. The subtle changes he makes in the character as we learn more about Fleck’s mental state are nothing short of legendary. You are able to empathize with him at the beginning and in the end, be completely terrified and disgusted by him. So many great choices with the character, specifically the laugh which has several interpretations in this film, sometimes genuine, other times an affliction that Arthur can’t control under times of anxiety. This makes horrible moments Arthur witnesses or is involved with even more awful when he is literally chocking to stop from laughing. It’s a fantastic performance and worth seeing alone just for that.
If you are a Batman fan, the last 20 minutes of the film are like silver screen caviar. The cinematography is done by Lawrence Sher is stunning. There are some really iconic moments in this film that will be some of the best moments of Joker on screen. All of the supporting cast (though not heavily featured, this is Joaquin’s movie) does great work. Everything in this film feels intentional and deep and may be hard to watch but the film earns the respect of its audience to at least explore its deep themes or social injustice and mental health care.
It’s ironic that ‘Joker’ could be the film to inspire more people to do GOOD than bad because of it’s messages of acceptance, kindness. It’s a nightmarish reflection of today, and rather than what most critics assumed would inspire rage and violence, promotes the exact opposite ideas. It poses a lot of important questions without demanding an answer from its characters or audience. It simply opens the conversation to be had, and It would be a huge disservice to the film if you only gave it a surface-level glance.
Overall, ‘Joker’ is a deep, beautiful and smart film that warrants a smart reaction. With a powerhouse performance and thought-provoking themes, I would say this is one of the best films of the year by far.