Todd Phillips’s Joker has been receiving enormous attention since its debut at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. The film received critical praise and even took home the Golden Lion for best film. Since then, the feedback has been divisive due to the films violent nature and many believing that it tries to portray villains in the wrong light. However, Joaquin Phoenix who stars as the titular character has been praised for his efforts. So, what does Joker have to offer audiences in regards to DC’s most well-recognized antagonist?
Set in 1981, Joker follows Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a failed comedian who feels ostracized from society and lives with his mother. He also suffers from a condition that causes uncontrollable laughter frequently throughout his day. After being driven insane by the world around him and the never-ending ridicule, Arthur becomes the Joker. Joker doubles as both a character study and social commentary that will undoubtedly leave everyone questioning how their actions indirectly contribute to someone’s mental breakdown.
Directed by Phillips, who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver. The film stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beets, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, and Joaquin Phoenix. The story in Joker is well structured, engaging, and an overall great tale about a man who is seemingly nonexistent in society. The script is riddled with familiar themes of poverty, corruption, mental illness, and a broken society, all of which are handled decently from Silver and Phillips. The pacing is slow and methodical and audiences will feel sorry for the character of Arthur Fleck and understand his decision to become one of the most prominent villains ever. Phoenix balances it to where the feeling sorry will become a feeling of fear towards what Arthur ultimately becomes.
As mentioned above, Phoenix does a great job bringing the iconic villain to life in a way that rivals what Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight. From his body movements, psychotic facial expressions, and the glorious laugh he gives one of the best portrayals of Joker to date. Whether or not he gets snubbed of an Oscar nomination has yet to be seen, but recognition is deserved for what he did in this film. Each scene is his and he allows viewers to develop a concern for the mentally ill Arthur Fleck, who has been abused for years and finally decides to give up on society.
Adding to that, Joker is one of the year’s better-crafted films. The cinematography from Lawrence Sher is amazing and the score done by Hildur guðnadóttir compliments every scene wonderfully. This is some of Phillips’ best camera work and combined with the film’s gritty retro setting it creates a visually pleasing treat to watch. However, a lot of Joker’s visual pleasures are due to the fact that it seems to borrow a lot from Taxi Driver. All films are inspired by something these days, but Joker’s inspiration is too apparent.
Regardless of that, this film will certainly have everyone talking for quite some time because of Phoenix’s efforts as the titular villain and the fact that it features an absent hero to oppose the Joker because Batman is nonexistent in this period. The absence of the hero allows viewers to become more concerned with asking what lead to all of this madness that Phoenix perfectly embodies. It isn’t making excuses for the actions of Arthur, but it leaves room to wonder what could have been done to avoid all of this after witnessing the life that he endures day to day.
Joker is a bold, thought-provoking film that many will be debating for years and the film will rub some individuals the wrong way. Despite that, it is a well-crafted piece of cinema that features one of the strongest character studies in recent memory and Phoenix should be proud of his performance as the titular villain because that truthfully is the film’s greatest asset.