“Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
Joker Video Review (Spoiler-Free)
There’s no need to beat around the bush. Joaquin Phoenix nailed this performance from beginning to end. At no point does he falter in his portrayal of a troubled and mentally ill man that gets pushed over a dangerous edge. Phoenix brought a lot of depth to the character for audiences who may not be familiar with how complex “Arthur Fleck” can be. I think the strongest aspect to his acting is how he’s able to portray the internal dysfunction of his character into an external expression of his fractured perception of reality. That, in itself, carries the movie the whole way through. You can’t help but to be captivated by Phoenix every time he’s on screen because you’re always wondering just when will he finally break. His maniacal laugh is both awkward and offsetting. Some of the best moments will come from his extremely uncomfortable scenes that are cringe-worthy (ie: his stand up scene) or the random acts of violence. Regardless of the situation, his performance will bring forth some sort of reaction from you as the movie goes on.
One obvious highlight for this film will be found in both the editing and overall cinematography. There are moments in the film that are shot in a way that almost make you feel like you’re experiencing the world with and through the Joker character. Without getting into spoilers, the way the movie is edited also creates a fun experience for audiences to not only challenge our perceptions of the film, but to probably even warrant multiple viewings. I do believe that director Todd Phillips accomplished his goal in presenting a city (Gotham) that eventually will need a caped crusader to save it. The setting and atmosphere of the film is well established by borrowing some of the feel and flair from the 70’s era of filmmaking. You get a really good sense of the state of the society in the fictional city of Gotham. As a matter of fact, the city essentially becomes a character in itself which also compliments Joker’s character as well.
Another plus for Joker can be found in its unique approach to the Batman mythos. What I appreciated here as a comic fan, is that this film took some leeway with giving us a different take on how the world of Gotham came about in this rendition. It was intriguing to see how this film took a unique angle to show the political and sociological situations that feed into the character of Joker. What makes this all work is that Batman or Bruce Wayne really don’t have to be centralized in this story for you to care and that is a real strength given Joker’s direct connection to the Batman character.
A personal issue I had with this character (so pop your grain of salt here) was how overly sympathetic they made the Joker. While the film may try to go for a more realistic and grounded approach with the character, it still ends up pushing some unbelievable situations for dramatic effect. It’s basically one issue on top another that becomes inescapable for Fleck’s character. There’s no denying the fact that at every single turn of this film, whenever Fleck does something bad, the movie gives some sort of rationalization behind it. While his actions may not be justified all the time, there are enough reasons provided where audiences may sympathize to the point where they understand his actions, even if they may not condone them.
In fairness to the movie, there are some instances in the film that do refute this, but that would get into spoiler territory. What I will say, however, is that the imagery of a film carries much more weight than a simple line of writing that tries to undo this or that, or explain something else away. The last thing I’d want to do is feel for the Joker. This film, regardless of his actions, leaves too deep of an impression, from a visual standpoint, where you can’t help but understand him more than you may want to.
Joker is a captivating and insanely brilliant presentation of the classic comic book villain thanks to the award worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Joker isn’t a typical comic book movie and it’s also not your typical arthouse film that only the purest of movie buffs enjoy. Joker was an interesting blend that tries to appeal to both audiences, and I would say that despite any divisiveness, it does accomplish that goal. Comic fans can look forward to yet another story within the Batman world, and non comic book fans can watch a dramatic tragedy befall an extremely damaged character.
This movie practically demands to be seen multiple times. There are some insanely deep nuances in the story that a lot of people will miss with a single viewing. I’ll fully admit one other thing too. I had to change my ratings and reviews for this based on my second time seeing it, and it caused my score to up even higher because of the things that I initially missed. I’m definitely recommending this to be seen in theaters and have a great time.
With all that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give a quick mention about the surrounding controversies and safety concerns around this film. Does Joker potentially give fodder to people who are mentally unstable and maybe prone to violence? Yes. Yes it does. Does Joker present a problematic image of violence that gets rewarded with hero-worship? Yup. It definitely does that too. The film depicts and verbally echoes many of the qualities, thoughts, and traits that noted mass murders and such have been documented to exhibit. Does that mean we should ban the movie or that you should skip it? No. What’s important to note here is that mentally unstable people will latch on to anything, so that’s not necessarily an indictment against this film. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to simply be a bit more aware during your movie going session. It never hurts to be a little more cautious and mindful. Anyway, I think Joker is a solid movie that will leave audiences talking and thinking. It’s obviously very rated R, so don’t be fooled by the clownish appearance. (This is NOT for children)
Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz