“Joker” stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais, and Shea Whigham. Released on October 4, 2019, the film is about a stand-up comedian who descends into a life of crime and chaos.
The film is directed by Todd Phillips, who also directed films such as “Road Trip”, “Old School”, “The Hangover”, and “War Dogs”. It is based on the DC Comics character created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson. Throughout DC Comics history, Batman has been battling numerous criminals to keep Gotham City safe from crime, ranging from the muscular Bane to the sexy, plant-loving Poison Ivy. However, none of these battles can compare to his battle with the clown prince of crime himself, the one and only Mr. J. The Joker has been known as one of the most iconic supervillains in comic book history due to his psychotic personality and his sadistic sense of humor. These traits, along with his obsession with causing chaos, make him the perfect adversary to the Caped Crusader. Given how popular the character is, it’s no surprise that he went from the pages to the screen. Whether it’s film, television, or video games, the Joker has been successfully brought to life by some notable popular celebrities, such as Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Mark Hamill. There were also other actors who either played or voiced the character in the other media incarnations, but none of them really match the same amount of impact as the people I mentioned. This year, Joaquin Phoenix is now the latest actor to take on the anarchic persona of the makeup-wearing criminal in what seems to be a more grounded and violent take on his origin story. I have been looking forward to this film for a long time. Not just because of how much I adore the Joker, but also because of how Todd Phillips, the film’s writer and director, is given the opportunity to share his own version of the character without following the comics step by step. So far, this strategy managed to pay off quite well as it received plenty of positive reviews as well as a Golden Lion from the 76th Venice International Film Festival back in August. However, it also gained plenty of controversy in terms of its depiction of violence and how it could inspire real-world violence, which was pretty surprising considering the fact that we have other R-rated films that showcase strong violence. 2019 has been a pretty weird year for us. Thankfully, this didn’t stop me from seeing how this new vision unfolds. Is it as good as its reviews? Let’s dive into the madness and find out.
For those who have read a lot of comic books, the most common origin story for the Joker has him falling into a tank of chemical waste, which bleached his skin white and turned his hair green and his lips bright red. You know, the traits that make someone an actual clown. In this film, they’re ditching the chemical waste and putting more focus on the character’s mental illness. Set in the year 1981, the film follows Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a man who pulls double duty by working as a clown-for-hire and taking care of his mother (Conroy) in Gotham City. Fleck is also suffering from a neurological disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably. His life soon starts to spin out of control thanks to the amount of unemployment, crime, and financial losses that is plaguing the city, forcing him down a darker path in which he may never get out of. The most important thing you should know about “Joker” is that it’s not like any other superhero movie we’ve seen for who knows how long. It’s more along the lines of a cautionary, character-driven tale of a person’s broken life that’s set in the same universe as “Batman”. It showcases a mentally unstable person who was driven mad by society’s negative influence as well as his self-discovery. After watching it for myself, I can fully understand why people are starting to feel concerned over it. It’s because of how much this film’s world is reflecting our own society in this day and age due to the amount of mass shootings we had in the last couple of months. While it’s obviously clear that it’s not for everybody because of its disturbing and depressing nature, the film handles that nature with masterful filmmaking and a strong cast. Inspired by the films from Martin Scorsese like “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”, Todd Phillips has crafted a deeply haunting and engrossing portrayal of a man’s transformation into the infamous character that we know and love from the comics and how that transformation sparked an anarchic revolution. Phillips’ sense of direction was far from perfect, unfortunately, since it had a few dramatic moments that felt a bit too safe for its intended tone. Other than that, he offered the right amount of shock and uneasiness to make the film stand on its own against the other “Joker” incarnations. The biggest highlight for me has to be the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix, who absolutely dominated his role as Arthur Fleck. He wasn’t able to top Heath Ledger as my personal favorite live-action Joker performance, but I’m happy to see that he came extremely close. He accurately mastered the character’s persona and emotions and his “Joker laugh” was honestly quite unique and a bit uncomfortable. It makes me feel bad that I haven’t watched any of Phoenix’s other films before this one. Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy also delivered some riveting performances as Murray Franklin and Penny Fleck, respectively, two of the supporting characters who played a role in Arthur’s emotional turn to the dark side. Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s love interest, was a hit-and-miss for me. On the one hand, her performance shows that she could do pretty well in drama films, whether they’re superhero-related or not. On the other hand, her character’s role in the film wasn’t exactly as big as the roles of the other characters. I was a bit disappointed that Sophie didn’t have a bigger part to play in Arthur’s relationships with those around him, but I was also fine with the bold direction they took for her. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher beautifully captured the gloomy and discomforting world of Gotham City, and the musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir was just as haunting as the film’s tone.
Overall, with its irresistible amount of uneasiness and social commentary, “Joker” successfully expresses Todd Phillips’ creative and gritty storytelling. It is another daring accomplishment for the superhero genre thanks to some strong performances (particularly Phoenix), Phillips’ direction, and its emotional story. It might not be suitable for people who don’t want to be reminded of the world we live in now, but it works well as a crucial reminder of what will happen if we don’t do something about this type of negativity. I believe that this film should be looked at as a source of discussion in this day and age instead of something to blame for the violence in the real world because talking about it helps us learn to be better people. If you’re still unsure about seeing it because of the film’s concept, all I can say about it is that you don’t have to see it if you don’t want to. Otherwise, it’s worth checking out if you want a different take on the superhero genre.