|Directed by||Todd Phillips|
|Based on||Characters by DC Comics|
|Music by||Hildur Guðnadóttir|
|Edited by||Jeff Groth|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$543.9 million|
One of the most talked about movies of the year, ‘Joker’ has divided audiences in a way that I have to say surprises me. To anyone who feels like this movie is massively controversial or dangerously violent – first of all it’s really not that bad; and secondly, what did you expect from a film about a psychotic serial killer?
By this point, I feel like everyone should already be aware that this is not a superhero movie. This is not an action movie. I’d be hard pushed to even call this a thriller. Anyone going to see this film must be aware that it’s a gritty, slow-burning drama. ‘Joker’ is a character study about a mentally ill man, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), whose path to becoming his infamous alter-ego is paved with hurt and disappointments. A man who works as a clown, with an ambition of becoming a stand-up comedian, Fleck’s mask of depression is slowly removed, piece by piece, as a result of society’s inability to accept him. It’s only by removing that mask that he discovers that his Joker persona, as sick and twisted as it may be, can finally bring him a sense of purpose.
Obviously it’s far too early to be seriously discussing who might win Oscars, although up till now I feel as though the only realistic contender for a Best Actor nomination has been Antonio Banderas for ‘Pain and Glory’. I personally wasn’t a fan of ‘You Were Never Really Here’, but rising from its ashes like a phoenix is Joaquin, who at this point has got to be a strong favorite to win his first Academy Award.
The body transformation from ‘You Was Never Really Here’ to ‘Joker’ reminds me of when Christian Bale lost all that weight for ‘The Machinist’. In both films, Phoenix plays a creepy loner who lives with his mum, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was two different actors. The way he runs and the way he laughs are so peculiar, and I’m sure Phoenix took a long time to work on both. Of course, the laugh has a huge role to play in this movie as we see how much his laugh is uncontrollable for him, so much so that it causes him physical pain. I think what could potentially win him the Oscar though is his intense physicality. He uses his body excellently to convey so many emotions. I’ve seen many a reviewer call Phoenix one of the current greatest actors in the world. Normally I roll my eyes at such a claim, but after seeing him in ‘Joker’ it certainly reminds me that (occasionally) he can be.
One of the major talking points of this movie has been violence. I’ve seen so many reviews online which have branded the film too violent and an irresponsible danger to society. Some people are convinced that this film is going to inspire brutal acts of violence in real life. Frankly, that’s a discussion I thought was dead and buried a long time ago. It’s not the fault of the films/games if somebody commits a violent act as a result of watching/playing. It’s more than likely that individuals would have committed a crime of some sort whether or not they watched the film or played the game. I refuse to accept the criticism of ‘Joker’ that it will insight criminal behavior. In addition, I have to wonder what all these complainants have been watching, because ‘Joker’ isn’t even that violent. It’s a 15 certificate for goodness sake – so I knew before the film even started that it wasn’t going to be the bloodbath some people had made it out to be. Compared to many of the action and horror films I’ve seen this is actually quite tame.
A film which I was reminded of a lot while watching this was ‘Taxi Driver’. Tonally and stylistically there was something about ‘Joker’ that just kept bringing me back to this Scorsese classic. I’ve seen some reviewers also mention ‘The King of Comedy’; although having not seen it myself I can’t say how much that movies compare. What links both of those films directly to ‘Joker’ however is Robert De Niro, who plays talk show host Murray Franklin. He’s a character who Fleck looks up to, hoping that one day he will get to appear as a comic on his show. I think we can all agree that De Niro has made some very poor acting choices as of late, often phoning in his performances for projects when he surely doesn’t need the money. On this occasion however, I have to commend De Niro for actually looking like he gave a damn. His role in the film isn’t lengthy, but I genuinely thought he gave a solid supporting performance. Towards the end of the movie, he has a scene with Phoenix, which I suspect the powers that be might use as one of the clips they choose to show off during awards season.
I think where the bulk of this film’s potential awards nominations might come is in the more technical categories. The cinematography was amazing, as was the score. I thought the production design looked fantastic, as did the costumes and hair & makeup. I also thought the film was edited extremely well – particularly in the use of the character of Sophie (Zazie Beetz), Fleck’s neighbor. I’d be very surprised if come awards season some of these categories do not feature ‘Joker’ in their nominees’ lists.
As much as I enjoyed the movie I don’t think it was the flawless masterpiece that many people have been claiming it to be. I think there are some choices which I’d have preferred the filmmakers not to have made. One of the main things I did not want this film to do was a link too much into the Bruce Wayne/Batman storyline. At a couple of points I feel as though they did step into that world a little too closely; perhaps with the idea that there could be a sequel, or to potentially add Phoenix’s Joker into the mess that is the DCEU – if that’s even still a thing. There’s one scene in particular that really irritated me, which I’d definitely have cut.
I also am in two minds about the messages I feel they wanted to send via this film. For the most part, I actually thought they did a good job of making us consider how much we as a society are partly responsible for the behavior of a person with mental illness. We see throughout the movie how it’s lots of tiny things that eventually lead to Fleck’s transformation into the iconic supervillain; and so perhaps had society treated him better, his spiral into insanity may not have manifested itself in such a disturbing manner. It sounds a little corny, but I think the takeaway from this film is that we just need to be nicer to people because we never truly know what’s going on inside their heads.
The film also tries to make a point about the class divide, specifically the rich and the poor. To be honest, I’m not as clear as to what the film is trying to say on this issue, as to me it appeared, for the most part, to simply paint the rich as bad people, so that we would feel some sympathy for Fleck; and perhaps even understanding of his actions. This was probably one of the least interesting aspects of the film for me.
Not a positive or negative, but something of an observation. This movie in many ways is similar to the aforementioned ‘The Machinist’ and ‘You Was Never Really Here’ – films which have a strong cult following, but were not exactly embraced by the masses in the same way that ‘Joker’ has been. Had there not been the brand recognition that comes with the popular Joker character I would strongly argue that this would have been just another weird little film that only serious cinephiles would have seen and raved about. I suppose what I’m wondering is whether ‘Joker’ is actually as great as many people are saying; or is it that it’s just easier for people to enjoy this movie because they already have a view/understanding of the main character. As I say, this isn’t a criticism – just a niggling thought.
I suppose when I think about this film, on the whole, my gut feeling is that it’s a good film, with a fantastic leading performance. I think it’s a technically well-constructed movie, which attempts to deal with a serious physiological condition. I can’t bring myself to agree with the fanatics in declaring ‘Joker’ as one of the best films of the year – there have been too many others which I’ve personally enjoyed more. That said, I think ‘Joker’ is an impressive movie, which I’m certain we’ll be talking about again come awards season.