Directed by Todd Phillips.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro, Marc Maron and Brett Cullen.
Joker centres around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone story not seen before on the big screen. The exploration of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a man disregarded by society, is not only a gritty character study but also a broader cautionary tale.
If there is one villain in comic books that absolutely everyone knows, it is The Joker. Now the supervillain is headlining his own film from Todd Phillips with Joaquin Phoenix starring as the famous clown in Joker, an intriguing and disturbing look in this standalone DC film at this alternate take on Joker’s origins. What Phillips succeeds with is a very captivating and visually stylistic film as Phoenix delivers a memorable performance, even if the story follows a pretty simplistic road.
Phoenix is outstanding in the role of Arthur Fleck. Joker simply does not work without him as he puts everything into this role, displaying Arthur’s downward mental spiral in disturbingly clear way. From the start of the film to its conclusion, Arthur goes through a true transformation with Phoenix portraying the changes within Arthur believably. Through his laugh, posture and speech, Phoenix takes the villainous role and makes it his own. And a villain he is too, because despite some sympathetic tones to Arthur, it is clear from the beginning he is not meant to be a truly sympathetic or idolized figure, a fact Phoenix takes and runs with to create an unsettling portrait of how someone like Joker could have been made.
While Phoenix is great in the central role, the supporting cast unfortunately doesn’t have too much to do. Zazie Beetz is criminally underused as Arthur’s neighbour and love interest Sophie to the point where there is not much, if at all, emotional investment in their relationship. Frances Conroy has nice chemistry with Phoenix as Arthur’s ill mother and gets a few moments to stretch her abilities, but also doesn’t get much to do beyond acting sick. Of the supporting cast, Robert De Niro shines the most as night show host Murray Franklin, showcasing both his charisma and seriousness at different points in the story.
Unfortunately, the story is where the film doesn’t quite hold its own weight. It’s a fairly generic tale and origin story with several of the film’s big twists or moments being predictable. There’s not much in the story to really surprise viewers, one of the reasons some of the emotional investment in Arthur’s relationships don’t feel completely earned. It does, however, have some interesting themes and does well with its examination of them, especially since there is no Batman anywhere in sight. The film posits that Joker is as much a creation of society instead of a winged creature of the night and Phillips’ grounding of the film in reality works pretty well, even if it is a bit too on the nose at times.
Joker’s visuals, however, are spectacular. It is one of the best looking films of the year with how it captures its characters, showcases its colours and environment. Phoenix’s performance is so creepy thanks to the ways he’s shot, lit or other various imagery in the film. The cinematography captivates you in a way the story does not by keeping it visually interesting throughout its runtime. Though the violence is sparse it is gritty and doesn’t shy away from its brutality, even as Arthur revels in the carnage of his violence. The visuals are so strong that it helps make up for some of the film’s other shortcomings.
Phillips directs a pretty entertaining film that is commanded by Phoenix’s performance. His commitment to the role is Joker‘s most compelling aspect and he makes it his own through his physicality and delivery. Though he, the visuals and themes strengthen the film, the story’s genericness and usage of its supporting cast doesn’t make it succeed quite as much as it hopes. Fans and mainstream audiences should still walk away happy with the film, particularly with Phoenix’s magnetism, but it doesn’t really add anything new to the character of The Joker.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.