REVIEW: ‘Joker’ demolishes doubts, sheds needed light
When I first heard of the idea for “Joker,” I was dead set against it. I’m a fan of the comics and a Joker origin story didn’t appeal to me at all. The Joker is a mysterious force of nature and not someone who can or has been clearly defined since his creation. In other words, the filmmakers really had to work hard in order to sell this film to me.
Since I’ve now seen it, though, what did I think of this dark and edgy standalone film from Warner Bros. and DC? Well, my fears have been wiped away. I really enjoyed the film and thought that they did a great job.
Before I get to the rest of the review, though, I personally think that this should go without saying — this movie is dark with moments of extreme violence.
I mean, this movie is depressingly dark as we see the fall of a mentally ill man who can barely keep a lid on his mental condition and a society that seems hellbent on blowing that lid off completely.
The movie is not extremely violent at the beginning, but it does build to a dramatic crescendo. The movie is also a cautionary tale not just about ignoring the mentally ill but also ignoring a society that feels beat down by the elites above them who don’t understand why everyone beneath them is so upset.
In the film, Arthur Fleck is a reclusive, mentally ill man who is still living at home taking care of his mother. He has a job as a clown at an agency and has had a history of mental illness. He is also an aspiring standup comedian, though he’s not very good at it.
Not only are Arthur’s joke’s bad, but he also has a debilitating condition that causes uncontrollable laughter.
Meanwhile, in Gotham City, crime is on the rise and the gap between the rich and the lower class is growing even more. A wealthy man named Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) has promised to do what he can but this isn’t exactly the same man that we’ve seen through the eyes of his son, Bruce.
He’s a little more harder edged and, as one of Gotham’s wealthiest people, he’s also more than a little out of touch.
Finally, Robert De Niro stars as the popular talk show host Murray Franklin. This is someone who Arthur looks up to as an inspiration and possibly even as a father figure that Arthur never had. These pieces of the puzzle set everyone on an inevitable but still engaging course that will alter all of their lives forever.
The biggest question, really, is how well does Joaquin Phoenix do as the titular character?
The good news is that Phoenix is fully committed to the part and does a terrific job as Arthur. In this particular film, you have to feel for Arthur’s situation even though he is destined for a dark path. Somehow, Phoenix makes me feel for him at first, yet, he also makes me appalled at the character later on as he falls from grace.
Not since “The Dark Knight” have I seen a film where you could take away all of the Batman elements and still have an engaging singular film experience about mental health and class welfare in America.
Director Todd Phillips gives the film a dark and gritty look. He’s also right when he said that Martin Scorsese was the big inspiration for the movie.
De Niro’s casting as a latenight host was obviously influenced by Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.” Beyond that, the rest of the film is playing directly from the “Taxi Driver” playbook. The loner Arthur is working at a job that he depends on, he’s an outcast from society and there are several other direct references such as when Arthur puts his fingers up to his head like a gun.
In fact, I could even understand that some people might think that this is a little too derivative of Scorsese’s masterpiece. In spite of that, I was hooked on the film from the beginning until the end. It’s a dark and gritty film that may never let up, but it is also an interesting character study of a man and the oblivious society that helped create the monster he inevitably becomes.