One of the most anticipated films of the Fall 2019 season is Joker. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix (Her, You Were Never Really Here) as the titular character and is co-written and directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs). I should preface this review by saying that this tale of the Joker exists as a standalone film, and as of this writing, there are no further plans to continue on with a sequel based off of the events. It’s a one-shot. Joker also has nothing to do with the past and future Batman film(s) currently in production.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) lives with his ailing mother in a dilapidated apartment complex, where he spends his days working as a clown, entertaining children one day, to wielding those business signs that promote business on the street. He is continuously assaulted in a lawless Gotham City by folks that prey on the weak. He has a condition that makes him breakout into spastic moments of laughter and also carries laminated cards that describe this condition to those that may be bothered by his behavior. The only thing that keeps Arthur motivated to carry on is that of talk-show host and entertainer Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur fantasizes about being a successful comedian and hopes to one day be on Murray’s show. Anther glimpse of light in Arthur’s bleak existence is that of his beautiful neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz). She lives down the hall from him and enjoys his company and his standup routine. She acts a support system in Arthur’s life.
Things begin to disintegrate for Arthur when Gotham City makes cuts to the mental health budget of its operations. Arthur loses access to his medication and case worker. As Arthur begins to go down the rabbit hole, so to speak, he becomes a bit less uninhibited at every turn. This will ultimately lead to very dangerous business as Fleck will eventually have to come to terms of who he really is.
The hype machine is real with Joker. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerhouse performance that will surely lead to an Oscar nomination. Todd Phillips direction, much on the heels of classics such as Taxi Driver and King of Comedy also deserves a lot of credit for this piece of art. The year the film takes place is never mentioned but one can say it was sometime in the early 1980’s maybe – it’s never mentioned. Gotham City is a crime infested cesspool and some of the events going on in the film mirror our own in these trying times. One of the more shocking scenes that caught me off guard was that of Thomas Wayne’s (Brett Cullen) characterization. He was a bully and basically blamed the poor for being poor. It reminded me of Donald Trump and I may not be the only one who thinks that.
Leading up to Joker’s release there was some controversy that the film glorified violence but that is unfounded, even after seeing the film. There is no such thing. Yes, the Joker is a psychotic sociopath, with homicidal tendencies, but that’s a given and it’s true to the comic book source. To take it any other way would be foolish.
I can honestly say that Joker is a triumph of cinema and filmmaking. It deserves to be seen on the big screen. It also shines a light on its two biggest influences – Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. I would also say that the only bummer of the film is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a one-shot film. Unless the Gods of persuasion can get Phillips and Phoenix back together for a follow-up, this is as good as it’s ever going to get. Joker is highly recommended.
Joker is in theaters October 4, 2019 (USA)
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