RE­VIEW: ‘Joker’ de­mol­ishes doubts, sheds needed light

The Saline Courier - - NEWS - By J.T. John­son

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.

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