Review: Joker

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Source: Google)

The ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ returns to our screens, once again, this time brought to us by Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy, War Dogs, A Star is Born…). Taking on the role of the unpredictable, classic DC villain is the revered and incomparable Joaquin Phoenix, with a tight supporting cast, that includes Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2), Robert De Niro (you may have heard of him), Brett Cullen (Apollo 13, The Dark Knight Rises) and Frances Conroy (Sleepless in Seattle, The Aviator).

My mother always told me to smile and put on a happy face.

As quotes go, that’s pretty great life advice, generally speaking. That being said, that’s something not so easily done, whilst watching Joker. Unlike those that have come before it, Joker is not the colourful, ‘Watch the world burn’, maniacal villain-fest that we are used to seeing, be it through individual interpretations with each new Clown Prince outing. Joker is inarguably a much more sombre and morose approach to the character, which serves (reportedly) as the first in a new line of DC stand-alone movies.

One of the great things about the Joker (as a character) is that there is literally no limits to how you can interpret the character. He is an enigma (no, not that villain), a character with no immovably cemented backstory, that you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want with. There’s no right or wrong (I guess that’s a matter of opinion). You can take risks, and that’s exactly what Todd Phillips has done.

It’s no secret that Joker takes some inspiration and story arc from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, in that it follows the back story of a failed comedian deriven insane, but Joker is most definitely it’s own monster. It is a slow-burn character study, which is pretty much open to perception from each individual viewer. There are obvious themes that play heavily and serve as the catalyst of Arthur Fleck’s decent into madness and villainy, namely struggles with mental health and the air of class devide in society. It all churns and bubbles at the surface.

Most of the time, it’s pretty much difficult to sympathise with the Joker. At his worst he’s an insane murderer, seemingly without rhyme or reason, but that’s not the case with Fleck’s begingings. He’s a dark, tortutred man whose only desire is to bring happiness to the world. He longs to be a stand up comedian (though, to be fair, he’s pretty terrible at it), but finds himself knocked down at every turn and there’s only so much that one person can take before the world, or more accurately the people that populate it, start to piss him off to absolute breaking point. Eventually, those demons lingering at the surface are going to break free and people are going to wish that they were a little bit nicer.

For the purposes of spoilers, I’m not going to go into plot points and story, too heavily at all. I really want you to see it for yourself. So let me talk about performances. I was pretty confident going in that Phoenix was going to be a great choice for the role and I was definitely not dissapointed. I put aside any comparisons to previous actor’s portrayals that people seemed intent to fill my head with, as I knew that this was going to be a completely different kind of Joker. And I’m absolutely fine with that.

Phoenix performance is, quite simply, extraordinary. His ability to portray such a deep, complex character is captivating from start to finish. He effortlessly conveys the vulnerability of Fleck, as he battles through every moment of his jaded life, whilst holding that simmering intensity and terror of the Joker perfectly beneath the surface, until it’s forced to it’s boiling point. So, what about the infamous ‘Joker laugh’? Like the reality-steeped feel of the film itself, Phoenix’s take on the iconic laugh is inspired by people who suffer with pathological laughter, a disorder that causes people to laugh uncontrollably when they are nervous or distressed. To that end, it’s incredibly effective and an inspired and brilliant decision, by Phoenix.

There is a spark opf light, amongst the darkness and that comes in the form of Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond. Sophie serves as Fleck’s ‘love interest’, for want of a better term, and Zazie really does bring a feeling of hope and positivity with her in each scene that she shares with Phoenix’s gloomy and desperate Arthur Fleck. That’s all I really want to say about the Fleck/Dumond relationship (watch it yourself, people).

Sharing screen time is Robert De Niro as the stereotypical talk show host, Murray Franklin and Brett Cullen making an appearence as the father of future Batman himself, Thomas Wayne.

So, there’s no doubt that Joker is going to be devisive amongst the masses. I’m sure the purists and the casual viewers will be debating this film until the cows come home. That being said, in my humble opinion, Joker is a work of art. It is a brilliantly written drama, with dark comic roots at its core. It’s slow moving, but its pacing is consistently on-point. It’s a boiling kettle that focuses perfectly on telling a character driven story, with heart and meaning, rather than a maniacal shitstorm of random acts of violance. Joker is gripping, intense, relatable, real and beautifully written, that charts the rise of one of the most loved and recognisable villains in history. Complimented by it’s 70’s vibe, skilled direction and outstanding performances, by all involved.

This is probably not going to be the Joker that you are used to, but it is most certainly worth your time and your money.

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