Joker Movie Review
Joker Movie Review Metadata
Todd Philips’ Joker is going to leave audiences deeply divided this fall. At what degree you call yourself a comic book nerd will determine where you land.
For comic book purists, this is not the “Crown Prince of Crime” governing history’s supervillain pinnacle. That’s because Joker is precisely everything it warned it would be and not much more. This is a character-driven study confronting mental health. There are elements that tether the film to the much larger Batman mythology – including the Wayne alley shooting that very narrowly feels shoehorned in the final act – but this isn’t a movie about a criminal mastermind who wants to watch the world burn, nor is it a spectacle of computer-generated SFX wizardry.
For rent-a-clown Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), the wizardry is limited to parlor tricks he shares with hospital patients and children’s parties. Fleck is physically and socially malnourished, his demeanor is generally awkward, or at the very least misunderstood due to an involuntary laugh reflex in taxing situations (this is an actual condition called the Pseudobulbar affect). He doesn’t process emotions like anyone else, a problem only made worse when the medication he needs to manage his condition is suddenly taken away by Gotham political elites.
While Arthur is constantly subjected to deplorable interactions throughout his daily existence, there are a few safety nets he can rely on, but even the authenticity of these relationships is questionable and all of them contribute to his eventual meltdown. His mother (Frances Conroy) is very weak, but she appears to genuinely love her son. There’s a neighbor (Zazie Beetz) who tolerates him, but it is the relationship with a TV talk-show host named Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro) that inspires Fleck to become “Joker” and in turn incites an uprising across Gotham.
One of the fascinating aspects of the film is deciding what is real and what is manifested inside Fleck’s tortured mind. Phoenix’s performance is something to behold, but he’s framed beautifully throughout this movie. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher uses lens blur to isolate Fleck and continue that theme of a blurred reality. The camera push-ins are excessive but potent. The cinematography creates empathy, especially when complemented by Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score. There’s going to be some awards talk.
If there’s ever been a comic book movie where you shouldn’t rely on the Tomato meter, this is the one. The audience reaction will be mixed but it’ll have people talking. Joker is a divisive, controversial movie where you must draw your own opinion. In any case, Joaquin Phoenix delivers an unforgettable performance that is raw, gritty and deeply disturbing. In my most humble opinion, Phoenix redefines the titular clown beyond Heath Ledger’s invigorating turn and in part elevates the genre. He deserves an Oscar too.