JOKER | FILM REVIEW

RELEASED: October 4th 2019
DISTRIBUTED BY: Warner Bros.
DIRECTED BY: Todd Phillips
WRITTEN BY: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
PRODUCED BY: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper & Emma Tillinger Koskoff
MUSIC BY:  Hildur Guðnadóttir
STARRING:  Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Flesher, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Brian Tyree Henry, Douglas Hodge & Dante Pereira-Olson

I’m not sure why, but no part of the marketing for this movie really grabbed me. I knew I was always going to see it because it’s a comic book movie and that’s what I do. But the trailers for Joker didn’t really do anything to convince me that this was a movie about the Joker, so much as it was a Taxi Driver-esque movie, with sprinkles of The Killing Joke (him being a comedian), wherein the central character also happened to dress up as a clown.

Fortunately, this movie is so much more than that.

Joker follows Arthur Fleck, a depressed aspiring comedian who suffers from uncontrollable fits of laughter, struggling to get by in the grimy locale of Gotham City. Feeling betrayed by those closest to him and like an outcast to society, Fleck begins a descent into madness that slowly transforms him into the iconic arch-enemy of the Batman.

This movie is very much like Taxi Driver. The way it’s set out is very reminiscent of the classic film, and the general beats that Arthur Fleck hits are somewhat inspired by the journey of Travis Bickle. Fortunately, the way the characters operate is quite different. Where Travis was a slightly unhinged insomniac, struggling to make a man of himself, Fleck is riddled with insecurity and a different type of mental instability. This movie, perhaps more so than Taxi Driver, really shines a spotlight on things like depression and societal norms, in a way that, while not quite relatable, is understandable (by which I mean you may relate to some of the things going on, but unless you’re a supervillain, hopefully, you’re not seeing a mirror of your life on screen).

Like Taxi Driver, the defining part of Joker is, of course, the portrayal of the central character. Joaquin Phoenix outdoes himself as he dives into the persona of Arthur Fleck, crafting a believable and tragic character; one who makes you feel for him and judge him in equal measure. You want him to succeed at times (because it’s his movie), but know that the unleashed version of this man whom we come to know by the end of the film would be someone you hope you would never meet in real life. The way Phoenix brings the role to life is fascinating, and his portrayal is incredibly emotional and poignant. He’s amusing and terrifying, helpless and threatening. He is, without a doubt, one of the better Jokers (although probably not the best, for me – I’ll come back to that later).

But that’s not to say that this film is only good because of Phoenix. Everyone on the production does a terrific job. While the supporting cast members perhaps don’t have all that much independent screen time, you get a strong sense of their characters in their smaller moments in the spotlight.

Similarly, director Todd Phillips presents a very well constructed and often beautiful movie. What it depicts can be horrible, depressing and terrible, but the way it’s shot, cut together, and staged are marvellous. Along with composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, Phillips always manages to capture the perfect tone, as he dances between the triumphs and tragedies of Arthur Fleck’s existence.

It’s also like Taxi Driver in that it’s very different. There’s a great script on show here, amplified by all parties who have to bring it to life. But at its core, it’s unlike the majority of comic book movies put to screen. It’s unique in its subject matter and focus, but also does a great job of keeping you guessing. Even when you think you’ve got things figured out, the film will go out of its way to make sure you second guess yourself.

There was one particular part of the film where straight off the bat, I assumed I knew what was going on. And, in fairness, I did. But the film played the long con for such an extended period, toying with the reality of what was going on, that I eventually put aside my theories only to be surprised when it turned out to be exactly what I thought it was.

Does that make sense?

Let’s say yes and move on.

It’s just a great movie. A welcome change amongst the sea of comic book movies we get on a regular basis, and one that works perfectly as a self-contained little story. It’s an excellent interpretation of the character that deserves to stay just that. A one-off interpretation.

Because when I say Joaquin Phoenix is only ‘one of the better Jokers’, it’s because this is a character that I couldn’t necessarily see taking on the Batman. I mean, if they wanted it to happen, he could, but that’s just not somewhere I want to (or can currently) see this character go[ing]. Whereas Heath Ledger’s Joker orchestrated grand plans sprinkled with his unpredictable mania, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker operates on a much smaller, character-focused scale, and I love that. To throw him into conflict with Robert Pattinson’s Batman would betray the character somewhat, I feel. We don’t need to see him throw down with Batman to know that’s where he’s headed, and I’d rather that be something left to our imaginations.

In this universe, the only character who truly matters is the Joker. He’s not necessarily a supervillain, but he is an excellent character, and despite all my past reservations, I’m very glad we got to see his story come to fruition.

All-in-all, I give Joker:

I may even bump that up to a full five later. We’ll see.

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