Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Marc Maron, Zazie Beetz, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy
You would never look at Todd Phillips filmography of “The Hangover” trilogy and “War Dogs,” and think to yourself, this guy could make one of the most controversial comic book adaptations of the year. There are many elements to “Joker” that work in unison to create a unique experience. The idea of creating an entirely new mythology for one of the most well-known DC comic villains and telling it from his perspective. Also following the vein of an indie movie that’s deeply artistic, with some of the year’s best production design, art direction and costuming. Not to mention an innovative original score by composer and musician Hildur Guonadottir (“Arrival,” “The Revenant“) that somehow connects everything together making “Joker” a chilling and intuitive cinematic experience. The buzz about this film is about the violence (there are far more violent films out this year), and Joaquin Phoenix’ masterful performance (if you follow all his work you already knew he could easily rise to the occasion).
“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) admits he hasn’t been happy a single day of his life. Despite working as a clown for a living promoting smiles and happiness. Living with his mother Penny (Conroy) in a run-down building. Gotham City’s rapidly deteriorating living conditions is no laughing matter. His dream is to be a standup comedian, but Arthur isn’t well equipped for public speaking. Mental hospitals, therapy, and medication, he has tried everything to feel better, nothing works. When mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) calls the poor citizens of Gotham “clowns” following a brutal subway murder, Arthur decides to take his day job in a different direction. Arthur’s actions and Wayne’s PR flub send the city into open revolt.
"Phillips and Phoenix walk a scary line of allowing the audience to empathize with Arthur (society often puts people in unforgiving situations), while never condoning his actions."
From the opening moments of “Joker,” you are invited into a clear vision for what Phillips wants the audience to experience. The color pallets packed into every frame are exceptional. In one scene where Arthur bathes his ailing mother, a single frame contains purple, mustard yellow, light greens, pink and glowing blue from the opposing shot. For such a dark film, “Joker” is bursting with color for added irony. The blazing mustard yellow hue is ubiquitous and aids in defining this unstated past in which these characters exist. The costume designer has our antagonist in wardrobe that’s reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s “Joker,” but the outfits evolve along with Arthur’s madness. The cinematography is also exquisite, Lawrence Sher (“The Hangover”) delivers career-defining work. “Joker’s” role in this year’s award race depends on voters embracing Phoenix’ performance and how well the film does in the technical categories.
Phoenix first Oscar nomination was for playing the demented Roman emperor Commodus, his most recent was another mentally unstable character in “The Master.” The three-time nominee has built a career on embracing darker personalities leading him to this performance which will dominate his work forever. Phillips and Phoenix walk a scary line of allowing the audience to empathize with Arthur (society often puts people in unforgiving situations), while never condoning his actions. The script is an obvious allegory for modern times and fans the flame of comparison. There is more depth in this comic book adaptation than all the others since Christopher Nolan last took us to Gotham City. Some of the most ingenious elements to “Joker” can’t be talked about in a review because of spoilers, but I will say Phillips finds a way to give reason and meaning to the characters iconic traits while simultaneously allowing this version to exist separate from the Batman mythology and work within it. I wish all comic book films could strive for this type of brilliance.
"Attention to detail and creativity combined with a bit of madness and a fully realized lead performance make "Joker" one of the most creative endeavors of the year."