When I used to play games like Vampire: The Masquerade, they had this disclaimer that said: “You are not really a Vampire. If you can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, you need to put this book down.”
I think the same can be said of Todd Phillips Joker, and it may be the source of a lot of the fear associated with it.
I believe the big fear that everyone has with Joker is that it’s going to incite people to violence and/or mimicry. It’s the same kind of fear that probably happened with films like Death Wish and Taxi Driver. It’s also the kind of thing that did happen with 1993’s The Program, a film that contained a scene with kids laying down in the middle of a busy road. Someone actually tried it, and ended up dying. As a result, people get a little nervous when Hollywood produces something that could lead to someone mimicking what they see on screen. In that sense, any film has the potential to have an idiot try it out, despite all of the warnings.
If that makes you in any way uncomfortable, the movie will be out on VOD in 3 months time, not a long wait. Still, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is easily worth the price of admission.
Looking past all that, Joker is actually very good. The Crow, The Dark Knight and Conan the Barbarian are comic book films, but are so serious that you wouldn’t really associate them with a comic unless you knew it beforehand. Joker falls into the same category for me. This might be a little off putting for some who are expecting a more “comic action” like performance along the lines of say, Batman Forever. It’s the kind of film where if you stripped the credits from it and sat someone down to watch it, they might not figure it all out until 3 quarters of the way in. It feels like just another film, save that happens to be dropped in Gotham City.
Joker is the story of Arthur Fleck, a man with a variant of Tourettes that causes him to laugh at inappropriate moments, among other issues. Working as a clown and hoping to become aThrough a series of events, Arthur falls and is pushed until he reaches a breaking point. That is the quickest way to explain Joker without divulging too much. Let’s focus on the particulars.
Todd Phillips’ direction is good here. We move from scene to scene with ease, and as far as I could tell, there didn’t appear to be any editing issues (which is more than what I can say with The Dark Knight). Gotham is a dark, gritty city, reminiscent of NYC during the late 70’s. The film also manages to make connections to DC Lore in some great ways, My only complaint there is that while it’s a city that could use the Batman, it wasn’t exactly screaming for help. Personally, I thought it would be better if you saw that Gotham had more issues of corruption or crime. Nothing bad, just a nitpick.
From a casting standpoint, Phoenix is the heart and soul of Joker. Having dropped some weight for the role, Phoenix throws himself fully into the role of a man trying to keep it together while his world slowly crumbles. Come awards season, I would be shocked if he wasn’t at least in talks for nominations. Between the moments of laughter, there’s a lot of pain being expressed. Granted, this isn’t entirely new to Joaquin Phoenix, who had a similar role in The Master, but he definitely takes it to some new levels here.
Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is okay here as a woman living in the same apartment complex as Arthur, but isn’t given too much to do here. The same could be said of Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), who plays Arthur’s mother, who tries to keep him on the right path. Robert DeNiro also stars as a late night tv show host who Arthur admires, which will remind some viewers of Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy. Of particular note is the score of the film, handled by Hildur Gudnadottir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), which ties in nicely to every scene with its haunting themes.
If I had any problems with Joker, it would be that the film makes it sound like being a loner automatically qualifies you for crime. There are tons of people who prefer solitude to companionship (or at least in short doses). It showcases both Mental Illness and firearms in such a way that could scare some audiences, suggesting that if you are medicated and stop, you will eventually cause someone some harm. If you own a gun, someone will probably be harmed. Having grown up around cops, guns, and family members with Bipolar Disorder, I don’t agree with that. This didn’t make the film bad in any way for me. In the context of the film, however, Joker is bound to raise some concerns.
Again, it’s mainly nitpicks, but for a story that shows the rise of a villain, it does work. There’s nothing mystical about Joker’s rise, and perhaps that’s scarier than finding out he was irradiated by gamma rays or some other superpower. I will say that watching Phoenix have these strange moments of slow tai chi like movements had me wondering what was up with him. That was strange, indeed.
Joker is also a film that doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of action. If you’re expecting a major third-act action sequence, it’s not exactly there. As a dramatic piece, Joker excels at moving the story forward, and as someone who was originally tired of the idea of yet another Batman related story (with all of the heroes /villains DC has at their disposal), this film was quite the surprise.
Overall, Joker is definitely worth the watch for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, though if you’re not ready for it at the theatre, you can always wait for it on Digital / VOD.