Joker is directed by Todd Phillips. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro. This is a standalone film based on the classic DC Comics villain. It is unconnected to any other DC Comics films.
Gotham City in the early 1980s is a cesspool of crime, corruption, rampant unemployment, and countless other problems, creating a divide between the working class and the wealthy. Arthur Fleck, a struggling clown for hire, struggles with his emotional problems, working a day job while caring for his ailing mother. All of this while attempting to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. The victim of one too many unfortunate circumstances in his life, Fleck succumbs to his madness. He's seeing the world in a whole new light, and becoming an unintentional inspiration to the disenfranchised masses of Gotham.
I’ve been waiting for a movie like this for years. A spiritual successor to Taxi Driver, Joker is simultaneously hilarious and emotionally disturbing, thanks in no small part to a career-defining performance from Joaquin Phoenix. It’s seldom predictable. The whole movie (not to mention Phoenix’s titular character) can shift in the blink of an eye. I don’t remember the last time I’ve laughed this hard at a movie, nor do I remember the last time I was this disgusted or repulsed by someone’s actions. How many movies succeed in making you simultaneously hate and love the main character?
The Character of Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix is the star of the show here. Every second he’s on film, your eyes are glued to the screen.
A mental case (and that’s putting it lightly), we see a man we sympathize with due to his unfortunate situation. He’s got mental problems. His counselors don’t help him. He’s got an ailing and hallucinating mother to deal with. He’s tormented and bullied at work and elsewhere by people who don’t understand him. Just staying afloat for this guy in a trying time is no easy task, let alone with his abnormalities.
As the movie unfolds, we truly see him come unhinged, rising from a low-level nobody who utterly fails as a comedian to the man who, through no real effort of his own, becomes a social symbol in a time when the differences between classes couldn’t be wider apart.
Make no mistake, Phoenix’s performance will have you in stitches. But it’ll disgust you on more than a few occasions too. Though people will file this under the “comic book movie” umbrella, it’s more of a character study. Phoenix’s performance makes this movie feel like a mash-up of The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Things aren't always what they seem through his eyes, either, and a few moments will definitely catch you off guard.
The Cast & More.
While the supporting cast is solid, I’m glad the movie keeps most of its emphasis on Phoenix’s Joker. Robert De Niro, the second-billed actor in the film, who portrays a television talk show host, really isn’t in the movie all that much; he’s around just as much as the movie requires. This is good as it means De Niro’s performance/character doesn’t detract from the star of the show. Despite this, the other characters in the film are well cast. They all serve their purpose in the grand scheme of things well enough.
Atmosphere also stands as one of the biggest strengths of the movie. The Gotham City we see in Joker is one reminiscent of the New York City of the late 70s/early 80s, when the city was certainly no place to be caught out in at night. We see protesting lower-class citizens voicing their hatred for a mayoral candidate who doesn’t understand them in the least, while they find themselves living in the gutters and complete squalor. The environment is full of hostile people who fail to understand, and it’s no surprise Phoenix’s Joker is tormented by everything he sees here, being a major factor driving his inevitable descent into madness. The film’s soundtrack is equally effective at helping to set a mood, with an eclectic mix of sounds and genres alike.
As with any movie like this, I need to warn potential viewers that it’s not a film for the easily offended or squeamish. Phoenix’s character is no hero, and there are some very gory and psychologically disturbing moments to be experienced here. It’s an R-rated film for mature audiences only, so leave the kids at home (there are plenty of theater chains essentially offering the same disclaimer).
Joaquin Phoenix owns the role of the Joker, and while the film does get a bit too busy at times, there’s no denying it’s just claimed the crown of my favorite film of 2019. I had my doubts, especially considering the Joker's ambiguous origin/history, but the end result here delivers and then some. A disturbing character study that’s quite comedic at times despite its disturbing moods and atmosphere, it’s the Taxi Driver successor audiences have been waiting for. Absolute highest recommendations for this film, but the young and the squeamish should stay home.
Rating: Four stars out of four.
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