Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto and now Joaquin Phoenix. The deep, interesting and sadistic character of the Clown Prince of Crime has had many adaptations (a lot more than mentioned above) and this latest one I can promise you will never be forgotten… As always I will avoid major spoilers but if you’re wanting to go in completely blind then I recommend you go see this film first then come back. In fact, go see this film asap regardless of your situation, even if you’ve already seen it, just go again. That last line may be a spoiler in itself for what my thoughts are on this movie.
Ever since Heath Ledger’s masterful performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the role of the Joker has felt like a little bit of a poisoned chalice with the general opinion being that Leger’s performance would never be topped, Jared Leto of course suffered from this very issue in Suicide Squad. Well this movie blows that theory out of the water because Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker has jumped straight into competing with Heath Ledger for that top spot!
Phoenix is outstanding in the role of Arthur Fleck/Joker. The journey you go on with this character is an uncomfortable experience, it’s hard to watch at times and you’ll find yourself feeling sympathetic towards this man, a man who becomes something utterly terrifying not necessarily down to him just being a bad guy, but because society has failed him when he needed it’s help the most. The way Joaquin Phoenix portrays this broken soul seeking answers in a dark world is brilliant beyond words, and if he doesn’t at least get an Oscar nomination for his work in this movie then it’ll be an absolute travesty. I also want to touch on how this movie addresses mental illness, more so how a person in dire need of help and acceptance is made to feel like an outcast and then vilified for his actions. Joaquin Phoenix has gone on record to say that he researched how people struggling in society this way might handle these kind of situations, and it really shows in his performance.
Other supporting characters play their roles perfectly, but this film is about Joker and everyone else is just living in his world. The only other real stand-out performance worth mentioning is Robert De Niro in the role of Murray Franklin – a talk show host who Arthur becomes obsessed with and desperately seeks approval from. This is a smart bit of casting as Martin Scorsese fans will quickly notice how similar Joker is to his movies Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, both of which star De Niro, so casting him in this villain-like role is a nice nod. Robert De Niro does a fantastic job, which given the point he’s at in his career he could have easily phoned it in, so massive props to him for putting in a shift to make this incredible showcase that much better.
Full credit doesn’t just go out to Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro though, Todd Phillips who wrote and directed this film deserves all of the massive praise he’s been getting as this movie is written to perfection. As somebody who adores the Joker character (check out my brief history of Joker article from a few weeks back) I could tell pretty early on that Phillips truly gets the character. I’d say there’s an argument to be made that nobody in film has ever captured the tragedy, chaos and unpredictability that is the Joker, as well as Todd Phillips has in this outing.
The story is flawless. Fans of the character might have felt concerned when hearing that this movie would be a Joker origin story, because of course the character is famed for not really having one or at the very least having multiple ones that he loves to tell. Leaving his backstory completely up to interpretation, or as the man himself puts it in the iconic Killing Joke graphic novel – “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha ha ha”, is nothing short of perfect fan service. Fans needn’t worry about the film not doing the “origin” justice, as the events of the story are told from the same twisted mind of the unreliable narrator we all love, and you’ll be leaving the theatre with a completely different idea of what actually happened, than the person sitting next to you. The way the story is told makes it difficult to decipher what is real or what is fantasy from this mad man’s twisted mind and I LOVED that!
The soundtrack, cinematography and even the little details such as using the old Warner Bros logo in the opening, all gives the film a believable feel of its late 70’s/early 80’s time setting, and really gives the viewer the feeling you’re watching a film from that period. The entire experience feels real and grounded, yet falls comfortably within the comic book confines with this whole thing being set in Gotham City. This version of Gotham feels gritty and a little scary, like a city on the brink of madness as if the entire place is one spark away from a huge explosion, much like Joker himself. Iconic characters from Gotham such as Thomas and Martha Wayne are prominent figures in the movie but again, they’re all there to help serve the story of Joker’s one (or more!) bad day.
I could go on forever but this is not a spoiler review and I already feel I’ve said too much. This version of the Joker may not look classic – however the story, portrayal and even the way the film ends in a perfect crescendo to a mad man’s masterpiece, flawlessly encapsulates exactly what a film about the Joker should be. I never thought in my lifetime that we’d get a Joker movie completely dedicated to the character without needing Batman to sell it. Not only did we get that movie, we got the best possible version of that movie and no matter how hard I try, I am yet to find a fault in this undeniable masterpiece. I was hoping to get to the end of this review without mentioning the comic book movie juggernaut that is the MCU, but if you’d have told me that in the year which featured the finale of Marvel’s massively successful Infinity saga with Avengers: Endgame, that DC would have a movie that would potentially steal not just comic book movie of the year, but outright best picture of the year… I would never have believed you, but here we are.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I give Joker