Film Review: JOKER (directed by by Todd Phillips)

by Joan Alperin on October 3, 2019

in Film

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A FILM THAT’S NOT JOKING AROUND

Joker, directed and co-written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, is a dark, disturbing, profound film that has tapped into the zeitgeist of today’s class divides with a vengeance. This is not a comic book movie, although DC Films is one of the production companies. In this prequel, Joaquin Phoenix’s version of Batman’s future nemesis is 180 degrees from that of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, whose two-dimensional, comic book versions are as different from Phoenix’s as The Archie Universe is from Tales From the Crypt.

No longer a tale about good versus evil, this is the story of a man’s descent into hell. He’s a complex human being drowning in both his convictions and his loneliness. Oh, he’s still evil: comic book fans will recognize this gruesome Joker like the one from DC comics in 1988 who beat Robin to death with a crowbar. (Readers did not like the second Robin, Jason Todd. He was many things the first Robin was not — hotheaded, an explosive jerk and rough around the edges. So, DC actually let the readers decide what Jason’s fate would be, and they decided to kill him.)

Meet Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a clown living in Gotham City, a dirty, crime-infested place where two classes of people reside: The Haves and the Have-Nots. The year is 1981. Due to a garbage strike, trash is sprawled on the streets, tempers are flaring and gigantic rats seem to have taken over, not unlike New York City during that time. A stand-up comedian wannabe, Arthur just wants to make people laugh. Working for an agency as a clown that does birthday parties and going-out-of-business sales, he lives with his mother, Jenny (the excellent Francis Conroy) and it’s obvious their relationship is far from normal. The only bright side is a sympathetic neighbor, played by Zazie Beetz.

Arthur is a man that is not part of the world he wants so badly to belong in. People dislike him. Strangers beat him up. The system fails him, cutting off his medicine that is his only link to sanity. When Arthur sits in front of a mirror painting his face, he cries, “I just don’t want to feel so bad anymore,” your heart can’t help but break for him. It’s only a matter of time before Arthur breaks; when that happens, all hell breaks loose. It’s here that he becomes the Joker. At one point he says, “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you deserve.” That is the essence of this brutal, unsettling, well-made film. Some may notice similarities to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, both of which starred Robert DeNiro, who plays provocative late-show host Murray Franklin here.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an astonishing performance. Not only did he lose so much weight that his ribs stick out, but the way he walks, moves, runs, sits, smokes, smiles and speaks all inform us about this broken character. His work is so specific that it would be shocking if he didn’t take home an Oscar next year. His acting choices prove that he is one of the greatest actors of our time. (Sometimes, Phillips spends so much time on excruciating close-ups of Arthur — perhaps imitating panels of comic books — that it can feel a bit indulgent and repetitive.) Reactions will be mixed; should someone so violent be seen as sympathetic? Just know that it’s an unforgettable film, and should not be missed.

photos courtesy of Warner Brothers

Joker
Warner Brothers
DC Films; Village Roadshow Pictures; Bron Creative; Joint Effort
rated R | 122 minutes | U.S.
opens nationwide October 4, 2019

{ 1 comment }

Chris Cavallo October 5, 2019 at 8:20 am

Great review as always and because of it will make this one of our “must see”movies for this weekend!

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