Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is an aspiring comedian with some mental issues that is mistreated by society. He slowly starts to break down to and begins to live a life of crime.
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images
Fun Fact: First R rated film to bring in over a billion dollars at the box office.
Joker directed by Todd Phillips is an origin story of the comic book villain that we all know of. While we have had some origin stories of the character like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, we never had a true big screen adaptation of the character just on his own. He has been in some big films with Batman, but it’s interesting to see what type of market this film could cater to with a villain being the lead character.
The film was known to have some controversy before release. Many people felt the film was too violent or glorifies violence in a positive light. It’s the old debate that has been around forever, and that’s if media forms inspire killers. There was talk of people maybe bringing guns to the theater and such. Honestly, I’ve seen even more violent films in my lifetime than this one and even more dark and gritty ones while I think of it. I don’t believe the film condones violence at all. It’s focus however is the issue with mental illness and how some just ignore it when people need help. That’s the real message behind it all and at this point I’m going to put that to rest. Now let’s talk about the movie.
If you’re expecting an action-packed film this isn’t the movie for you. It’s a character study that has a slow burn to it. It slowly builds up around a central character and it takes off. I think it was best that Todd Phillips went with it that way. We need a break with all the action-packed comic book films. We don’t always need explosions and constant scenes of action on screen. While I get that’s the point of a comic book movie, but don’t you want something a little different occasionally? Director Todd Phillips gets my praise for going with the direction that he went with. The beauty of comic book movies is that you can make an origin story or take a character that’s well know and put a different take to it.
The film is beautifully made in so many ways. The cinematography is top notch from Lawrence Sher sucked me in at the very first moment. The camera angles fit the scenes well and the color palette has a throwback feel to it. Phillips knows how to direct scenes that require high tension or have a creepy feel to them. I also love retro style films, and this was not exception. It has a very heavy Taxi Driver feel to it which leads to my biggest gripe of the film. A lot of the scenes while well shot and directed feel like it came straight out of Taxi Driver. When Arthur Fleck is in his apartment, I kept of thinking that it was Travis from Taxi Driver in the movie. Don’t get me wrong I love Taxi Driver, but this is a Joker movie, give me something original and different. It’s nowhere near a rip off, but you can see the inspirations from it, and it is very heavy on that. I’m not going to spoil it, but at one point it looked like the film was going in a direction with two characters. It would’ve been a great risk and something original. The script ended up not going to that risky decision and it was kind of disappointing not seeing that. I think it would’ve paid off and you will need to see the movie to know what I’m talking about. The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is also fantastic. The music is haunting, and it’s placed in the right scenes. Even the songs with an upbeat rock feel to it fit in the film.
Joaquin Phoenix puts on a fine performance. He’s creepy when he needs to be, and his mannerisms chilled me to the bone. He takes the character’s mental breakdown to the next level and he is a very memorable Joker. I know that I’m going to get some flack to it, but to me I don’t think I consider him the best Joker. When I think of the Joker, I think of Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and heck even Cesar Romano for that matter. I’m not sure if it’s the nostalgia of the Joker character but, while Phoenix is good, I have a different preference. If you have a different opinion and think Phoenix is the best, then that’s awesome! That’s why we have these conversations and it makes it fun. I enjoyed his performance greatly and with the Academy Awards coming up, I hope he gets it. Not only because of this work, but it will elevate comic book movies even more.
Overall, Joker is a well-made film and a different take on comic book movies. It’s a slow burn and it stays true to its title and focuses it on the Joker. It isn’t plagued with dumb sub plots or side characters that get tons of screen time. Joaquin Phoenix is the star of the show and he gives it his all. While not my favorite Joker performance he still deserves the Oscar. The film is beautifully shot, and the music is fantastic, and I have the soundtrack on my Spotify playlist. The only problem I have with it is that it relies on the Taxi Driver influence a little too much. While every movie has its influences this one goes a little too heavy on it. It’s only a minor detail so it doesn’t bring the film down. If you want something different, I would suggest that you check it out on VOD. I’m going to warn you though if your looking for an action-packed film you’re going to be disappointed. It’s also definitely not a film for kids and I heard of parents taking their kids to this and it’s important that you look it up before you make that decision to go see it.