Joker – Film Review
By Aiden Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry
Director: Todd Phillips
Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.
Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.
Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?
The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham. Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.
If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience. To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.
Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it. If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.