Review – Joker
Joaquin Phoenix shines bright in this dark, and at times uncomfortable, origin story of the most famous villain in comic books.
I’ll admit it. I didn’t think that this would work when it was first announced. DC’s recent successes have been few and far between and the idea of turning to their main bad guy attraction as a standalone film felt like it would lack enough to really hold a film together. I was very wrong.
Albert Fleck (Phoenix) is a failing comedian and struggling with a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably. He lives with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy) in a run down apartment in Gotham. Gotham is in near economic ruin, with high unemployment, increasing crime and social tensions.
I’ll offer little further in terms of plot given that the well known ‘origin’ nature of the film means most will already know where it’s going, the real enjoyment is how it gets there.
Todd Phillips directs and co-wrote (with Scott Silver) and this too was something of a surprise to me when the film was announced given that Phillip’s has a back catalogue of comedy films such as the Hangover trilogy, Old School, Starsky and Hutch and Due Date. However, again my concerns were ill founded given just how good a film this is.
In terms of supporting cast members, Robert De Niro stars as Murray Franklin, a TV host of a talk show, Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) as a single mother from a nearby apartment,
What we have here is a masterful performance of a man being pushed further and further by a harsh society into an increasingly dark place. It is a story about the man Fleck ultimately becomes when actually removes the mask that he has always worn. In fact a measure of the strength of the writing and performance is the extent that you sympathise with him.
It is very clearly inspired by the films of Martin Scorsese, most notably the King of Comedy and Taxi Driver both in terms of feel, aesthetic and the tale of an individual at the very edge of society.
I reflected after Shazam, that the approach that DC were attempting in terms of future films appeared to be to find the right tone for each film, rather than adding characters to a relatively singular tone which Marvel have done so successfully. This film couldn’t be further away from Shazam in terms of tone, but it is perfect for Joker. That is where the DCEU now needs to continue focus. Success doesn’t need to be creating a shared storyline with a familiar feel and tone. Joker is a perfect example of what can be achieved by focussing on just making very good individual stories.
For a character as well known as the Joker, the low budget nature of the film feels like something we’ve never seen before. It is a gritty, dark tale that pins everything on Phoenix’s ability to convey the slow descent from a man already on the edge of society, into the madness of the Joker. He delivers throughout and its hard to not leave the film quickly ascribing his name to various ‘Best Actor’ awards in the near future.