Joker Film Review
Let me back up a little and preface this review by adding that I was one of the select few people on this planet that actually approved the decision to cast Joaquin Phoenix in the iconic role of Arthur Fleck. A applauded the decision and even wrote about it here on Filmsane, back when pretty much every fanboy was fuming. That’s right, and here in this review I’ll be the first to say TOLD YOU SO! to all the haters out there. That being said….is it the best movie of the year as plenty of other critics are now describing The Joker? Not quite. But don’t get me wrong. It’s good. Like really good.
What the Joker is (on the other hand) a dark, depressing character study mixed with a dash of social critique. The subject of that study is Arthur himself of course. Unlike in any other character I’ve seen recently, there’s that intricate duality in Arthur that’s so polarizing and intriguing at the same time. You see, the Joker (in its core) is an origin story of the Joker. How a rundown clown for hire by the name of Arthur Fleck became one of the most notorious criminals in Gotham. It was a slow and steady decline for Arthur mixed with some personal and professional setbacks, but as you watch the movie you can’t help but tackle that complex duality in your head. You really don’t know whether to feel sorry for him or despise him. He’s got severe mental problems, but his healthcare finding gets cut short. He’s a loner who can’t stop laughing uncontrollably during inappropriate moments, but at the same time is longing for love and connection.
He’s working hard to hone his craft as a stand-up comedian, but at the same is aiming solely for notoriety, fame and an infamous celebrity status. And Joaquin’s masterful performance doesn’t make things easier for you that’s for sure. You can clearly see the dedication and the immersion in the role of Joker, but I have bones to pick with the screenwriter about precisely that. Joaquin was given way too much responsibility here, and his co-stars were left on the sidewalk. Seriously. He is carrying the entire role on his shoulders, and pretty much every other character is the equivalent of a training wheels on a bike. They’re good short-term support but obsolete and rather boring for the most part. You can clearly see that Joaquin is the man in charge of driving the bike, but pretty much everyone else is just a short term solution that doesn’t really pay off at the end. Which is just a shame because there are plenty of great actors in Joaquin’s company. Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy seem wasted here, and I’m not OK with that. I expected more from the supporting characters.
But to be fair, you can’t really pinpoint the movie’s success solely on Phoenix. No. The outstanding direction from Todd Philips does help in capturing the visual bite of this otherwise dark and gloomy movie, and so does the brilliant cinematography from Lawrence Sher. You really get the sense of the gritty dark atmosphere in almost every frame. Even in the interior scenes and enclosed spaces. Seriously, the set design is on point here. Gotham feels hopeless, dark, infested with dirt, crime and corruption. Oh and over here, Thomas Wayne is a dick, but that’s a topic for a whole another post.
However, you don’t really get the feeling that you’re watching ad DC super-hero movie. Not in the traditional sense at least. No, the movie feels like it was made by the dark and twisted illegitimate child of Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, and for some reason I’m OK with that. I’m loving the direction in which DCEU has been pushing their movie releases lately. They’re trying to stay clear form the pizzazz and grandiosity of Marvel and it shows. You can really tell the down to earth approach. You can really see the Scorsese influences (especially from the likes of Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and King Of Comedy) in the atmosphere, realism and tone. And by setting the movie in the early 80’s you can just swap the Gotham setting to NY or any other large city and you’ll have the same problems. Income inequality, budget cuts for mental health funding, corruption, high crime rate, filth and poverty. You name it it’s there.
Joker is a fine piece of cinema. Topped with fantastic performances (led by Phoenix), brilliant direction and outstanding cinematography, Joker is an acquired taste. It will derail your movie viewing experience going into the movie, and what you’ll be left at the end depends on your expectations in the first place.