Nothing is glorified or brushed upon, Joker is a fictional tale seen through a realistic lens. A fantastically twisted origin story that completely differentiates itself from all past iterations, it is truly a unique take on the character. Todd Phillips’ approach is to take the basis for the Joker, a comic book character and place him in a Joaquin Phoenix film. It’s not a comic book film with Joaquin Phoenix, but the other way.
Joker, Phillips’ film – a breathtakingly dark character study – is incredible. With a wealth of fascinating inspiration, Joker redoubtably transports you to the late 70’s, well specifically as Phillips has said, the summer of 1979. There is a clear spotlight on underbelly of stardom, what is created is a film of clear influence by Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The Man Who Laughed and The King of Comedy, Joker is able to expand on the excellence of Ledger, Nicholson and Ramero’s versions and create something so strangely different.
Stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his mother (Frances Conroy), he has been disregarded by society, he works a job in which he entertains as a clown. Arthur begins a slow dissent into madness as he transforms into the Joker. This disregard begins with hurt, suffering and laughter, Fleck is looked down upon by all who encounter him.
We are invited to love a ‘monster’, but in way that keeps your judgement of morality ambiguous. It’s bold, fresh and utterly beautiful, in its presentation and storytelling. Joaquin Phoenix will be laughing his way to Awards season, Phoenix delivers one of the finest performances of the decade. He is fully absorbed into Joker’s twisted journey, whilst it’s twisted, it’s also gracious in the building to his descent and/or rise. Almost wonderfully, there is a sense of chills to be felt from scene to scene, spectating a beautifully crafted, impeccable film full of colour and life.
Todd Phillips’ direction paired with Lawrence Sher’s cinematography is something to marvel at, Joker may possibly be one of the best looking films in a long time. Sher’s frequent use of pulling the focus into a low depth of field allows for a sense of confinement, nicely contrasting to the wide shots showing the glorious chaos by the end. It feels like it was made in the 70’s, it evokes the decaying city streets of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver with Mark Friedberg’s production design.
Like a Scorsese picture, Phillips’ Joker has an incredible soundtrack and score. The bustling music of the 70’s and backwards neatly parallel to the symphonic score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. Jimmy Durante’s ‘Smile’ and Frank Sinatra’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ populate some of the best scenes. Additionally, the musical aspect adds to that peculiar beauty seen in Phoenix’s constant breaks into dance, it’s a character study shown through dance, allowing for it to act as a sign for his growing confidence. This focus on movement and song is ingrained into Joker and the inner music within-side his head, linking incredibly neatly to the ending.
Backing Phoenix is the ever-phenomenal Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a talk show host. De Niro is a wonderful presence, his interactions with Phoenix are class examples of why De Niro is the best actor of all time and Phoenix, one of the best of his generation. There is one brilliant scene towards the end of the film, that may just be one of the best this year – it includes both actors.
Another element going for Joker is its ‘R-rating’, well, 15 rating in the UK. It allows the film breathing space to naturally evoke the realist lens it puts over the fictional story Arthur goes on, with moments of shocking violence being a major plus. The violence is sharp, bold and abrupt, creating a further sense of unease, mainly due to the instability of Arthur. I oblige you to soak in the darkness, violence and R-rated nature of the film, it’s abruptly and harmoniously portrayed in the most perfect way.
Joker is a brazenly breathtaking film with Joaquin Phoenix delivering an out-of-this-world performance as the clown prince of crime and Todd Phillips soars with his utterly beautiful direction. It will disturb, contort and make you laugh, it finds the perfect fine line between tragedy and comedy. This is a DC film not to miss. Phillips has made a Joaquin Phoenix film, not a comic book film.
5/5 Stars ★★★★★