When Joker was rumored in 2016 and officially green lit in 2018 many people were skeptical. How could a solo film based around the origin of the Joker be any good without Batman? Personally that was never something that frightened me, what did? Well would it deliver or fail like David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (which I do not hate as much as most people).
Joker is my all time favorite character and his treatment is very important to me. That being said this film did not let me down. The film centers around Arthur Fleck, a misunderstood, mentally ill person who continuously gets beaten down by society. Eventually causing the birth of Joker, a mass murdering psycho path with no remorse or restraint. Joaquin Phoenix has always been one of my favorite actors after discovering him in Gladiator when I was ten. His raw intensity and sever dedication to his craft has always been one of his most important tools and almost every film he stars in showcases that. However, I believe no other film displays his talent as much as Joker does. The entire film is shown from Arthurs point of view. An interesting choice since that method of story telling weakens the supporting cast and adds a tremendous amount of pressure for the lead actor. Yet, this film balances it perfectly. Phoenix is able to give his best performance yet and is able to captivate the audience from the very first shot. The mannerisms he uses perfectly captures a man on the brink of insanity, barely able to hold on. His laughter is frightening, using a real world disability in a respectful and important way.
One of the best aspects of the film is from the haunting score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. It compliments the film in a supremely chilling way and adds depth to the beautiful visuals. Lawrence Sher gives his career best with captivating cinematography that just kidnaps your eyes and refuses to let it go. The costume design and makeup artists deliver a seamless and unique look for the Joker that became an instant classic. The simple detail of his green dye stained on his skin, and the running blue makeup is simply brilliant and feels real. The film also revels in an unreliable narrative. Hinting at plot threads that could change the entire film is a great way to give audiences a reason to rewatch the film countless times. Not only is it important for box office and rewatch ability, but it gives one of Joker’s most iconic trait: A past that is multiple choice.
Todd Phillip’s also gives his career defining film, separating him as the man who only makes “guy” humor films to a true artistic director. Joker also stars Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin (a nod to De Niro’s classic The King of Comedy), Zazie Beetz as Sophie, Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck and Dante Pereira-Olson as Bruce Wayne (Fun Fact: Pereira-Olson played a younger version of Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here, a possible hint that their characters are related). All of the side characters play important yet small roles in the film and are all played brilliantly by all their actors with the exception of Brett Cullen who feel missed cast as a Trump-esque Thomas Wayne that was originally written for Alec Baldwin.
A common criticism I have read online is that this film asks you to want Arthur to kill. People have found that dangerous since he becomes of recent events in our own society. They act as if watching this film would incite people to pick up a gun and slaughter the next person they see. Yet, everyone (in my opinion) is missing the whole point of the film. Joker is essentially a warning. A dark story that exhibits the sicking acts people commit every day and are unaware of the deep consequences they bring. The way Todd Phillips and Scott Silver wrote this film brings that notion of the consequences of our actions to the forefront. It asks us to step back and look at ourselves and the way we treat one another. Every moment Arthur is beaten, or ridiculed on screen isn’t for you to find a reason to rationalize his behavior but to understand what causes someone to break. After the opening scene we are shown Arthur doing his job as a clown for hire. He twirls the sign and does his dance and then suddenly a bunch of kids jack the sign and lead him to an alley where he’s jumped and beaten. It’s heart breaking. It’s disgusting. I felt for him. He did nothing to deserve this act of aggression. And that was only the beginning. The rest of the film I sat there, hoping that Arthur would find someone who cares, that one person would treat him with respect and love. But, he never does, and it is disappointing. His eventual turn could have been prevented if only someone tried to help him. And when he does turn, I just felt ashamed, that this poor man was driven to this point. If that isn’t cinema then I truthfully have no idea what is.
Joker is a film that transcends the comic book genre and introduces the idea that comic book films can be peak cinema. Expertly crafted, gorgeously acted and hauntingly scored. Joker is one of the best films of the past decade and one of my all time favorite films. I give Joker a –
Joker is directed, produced, and written by Todd Phillips, co-written by Scott Silvers and produced by Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff.