Joker is the newest comic book movie from DC and is directed by Todd Phillips. The film follows Arthur Fleck (played by the great Joaquin Phoenix) as life and society constantly knock him down until he becomes the renowned villain, Joker. I’ve been excited for this movie for a long time simply because of how fresh the movie looked and how much I love Joaquin Phoenix.
And in that sense, the movie absolutely delivered. Unlike most others in its genre, it doesn’t rely on explosions and instead, has a character focused narrative that examines what tips a man over the edge and how society fails to provide the facilities and support the mentally ill. I appreciate the fact that for the most part Phillips could tell his own story. Apart from maybe one line of dialogue, there really isn’t much of a connection to anything related to the character from the comics. However, for whatever reason there was a forced comic connection in the final act that was poorly executed and took a bit away from the impact of the final act as a whole.
That being said, the final act, and the movie as a whole, was extremely dark and gritty. One of the aspects of the film that perfectly captured this was the score. Even while Arthur keeps justifying his actions through the dialogue, the haunting and sinister score establishes the mood and helps the film create a middle ground between sympathising with the character as well as condemning whatever horrific acts were being committed on screen. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher complemented the score by using the camera to create a distance from the character. While the muted colour palette is something that we’ve seen in a countless number of films, it was more purposeful here and was yet another technical aspect used by the film to enhance the darkness.
Before the film, I was worried about Todd Phillips’ direction. The guy hasn’t really blown me away with anything he’s done before and I wanted someone like Lynne Ramsay to direct. So I was pleasantly surprised that Todd Phillips handled the material very well. He had a very clear direction on where he wanted the story to go and what he wanted to say. Except for one poorly handled reveal, I believe he handled the subject matter with enough subtlety. Based on one of the Joker’s conditions in this film, I believe the movie will be very rewarding on a rewatch when trying to pick up what’s real and what isn’t. He also got great performances from most if not all of the cast members except for Zazie Beetz, who felt wasted.
And the highlight of the movie was the incredibly intense performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Everything from his body language to his voice modulation was perfection. He captured the essence of the Joker better than any other actor could’ve. There are scenes where the character is dancing, that combined with the score, are so eery and uncomfortable in the best way possible. Even though there is dialogue that is questionable throughout, Joaquin elevates the material and is the reason to go watch it. As great as several other aspects are, I doubt this movie would’ve had the impact it had if Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t playing the character. I struggle to see anyone else possibly winning best actor. When comparing him to other Jokers, I honestly don’t really know how to go about it. The characters are so distinct despite being based on the same comic villain that I couldn’t possibly pick a definitive version.
Overall, Joker is bound to leave a lasting impact on you. It finds a balance between sympathising the character and showing that the acts committed are horrific. Joaquin and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir are the highlights and everyone else delivers to the best of their abilities. If you weren’t already, I’d highly recommend checking out Joker in theaters.