Release Date: October 4th, 2019
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
Director: Todd Phillips
Studio: DC Films, village Roadshow Pictures, Bron Creative, Joint Effort
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Joker is an interesting movie. An origin story for a character that has never had a real one thus far, a movie in the Batman universe without Batman, a comic book movie that is as far from the excitement and spectacle of comic books as can be.
This isn’t to say it’s bad. It is interesting. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck, the man who would be Joker, is stellar. His physical performance is so specific, so infused with chaotic energy. Phoenix makes the film, no two ways about it. Without him it is hard to imagine Joker having anywhere near the punch it does.
The plot of the film, and the developments that lead to Fleck’s turn, is one of a man lost in the gears of an uncaring city. He is mentally ill, caring for his mentally ill mother and has no friends or social life outside of it. He attends socialized counseling but soon that is cut off and the question of where he will get his meds is never answered. And so, without any support, Arthur Fleck slides into completely into the dark. The journey of which is full of moments that, as revealed later, weren’t quite as they seemed.
Joker takes liberally from the Scorsese The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Seriously, don’t look up the plot for King of Comedy if you haven’t already seen it, you’ll spoil Joker.
As mentioned, the movie seems far flung from it’s comic roots. This isn’t about the Clown Prince of Crime you might expect, Phoenix’s Joker is less concerned with heists and more focused solely on murders. And they aren’t cartoony murders that leave victims with rictus grins – no they are visceral and horrifying. By the end of the movie there’s no question that the Joker is a bad guy (and if you think otherwise, please do see someone) even if what he says may make sense at times.
The movie fluctuations between having accurate, scathing condemnations of society to nonsensical madness being spouted in equal measure from it’s titular character. In any other movie would be a clear indicator of a bigger problem thematically, but coming from the perspective of the Joker it is fitting, that the ‘logic’ of his arguments and actions doesn’t quite line up. He believes in nothing after all. That’s a good and a bad thing. It makes the movie a bit amorphous, able to be shaped into whatever argument the audience would like, not what the movie itself believes.
Perhaps like it’s main character, Joker doesn’t believe in anything either.