Review of 'Joker'

joker.jpg In a crime-ridden Gotham Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a clown to support his sick mother. He suffers from mental health issues causing symptoms such as occasionally breaking out in uncontrollable laughter, taking regular medication prescribed by a social worker. After being mugged he takes a gun offered by a co-worker for protection but when it falls out of his pocket when performing as a clown at a local hospital he is fired from his job. When his social worker tells him that their funding has been cut so they can no longer offer him therapy his life takes a turn for the worse. On the subway three wealthier men start harassing a lady passenger when Arthur starts to laugh unintentionally. When the three turn their attention to Arthur, he attacks them in self-defence, shooting the three dead. This action unintentionally starts a class war in the city with the underprivileged rising up against the oblivious wealthier classes…Things get even worse when Arthur's disastrous stand-up experience is mocked by his idol, talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), then his mother is hospitalized and Arthur learns from his mother that he is the son of wealthy industrialist Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) who wants to have nothing to do with him, insisting he is not his father. His alter-ego “Joker” begins to emerge, and the blood begins to flow…

An interesting and quite disturbing tale of the origins of Batman's greatest enemy: The Joker. This incredibly dark tale details Fleck's descent into madness and desperation as his life falls apart around him. Though not particularly excusing his actions they are certainly made clearer and perhaps more understandable in the film. This is a well structured character study that at once captivates but also reviles the viewer. A much darker film than any of the Batman films that have come before, this is not one for a younger audience, with extremely troubling themes that question, albeit in an extreme environment, social norms in a capitalistic society. Hardly a normal superhero movie save for the occasional extreme violence splashed (literally) across the screen. There is no one here to cheer for though, perhaps, there is one to pity.

Filmed in a very realistic manner, the action here is up close and personal with the camera unflinching in it's depiction of a life, and city, in free-fall. This is cinema verité as we journey along with a man's decent into insanity, seeing the underbelly of a decaying society. Captivating and disturbing with a compelling performance by Joaquin Phoenix, firmly pushing aside those that have previously performed the role. On the subject of casting, De Niro as the populist talk show host is unusual yet oddly apt. The most intriguing part of the film is where Arthur finally engages with his idol…but I will say no more.

Darkly disturbing yet compelling back-story of the Joker but certainly not for a younger audience, nor for those that are fans of super-hero action films…action here is swift and brutal, hardly the stuff of heroes.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-03-01

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Studio: Warner Bros.

Year: 2019

Length: 122 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure

Other reviewed films by Todd Phillips: