Joker Review: Send in the Clown
So, after all the hype and especially the theater going crowd died down, we finally went to see Warner Bros' Joker!
Based on the popular Batman villain created by Bill Finger, Joker is an intriguing exposition of DC Comics' homicidal character when laying the groundwork of his origin.
From the start of this tale, we are introduced to Arthur Fleck, an emaciated, mentally disabled man, who lives with his ailing mother within the slums of Gotham City. Arthur tries to make ends meet by handling odd jobs i.e. wearing clown makeup while advertising a storefront. And since the setting of this movie takes place during the early eighties, where the crime rate is astronomical, things don't go too easy for poor Fleck.
As a nightly ritual, Arthur and his Mother, Penny watches a variety show in the vein of Johnny Carson hosted by Marty Franklin (Robert DeNiro) whose monologue inspires Arthur to be a comedian. Of course, there's blatant parallels between this movie and The King of Comedy, but it's a homage to Scorsese, since he was originally tapped to direct Joker.
After going through an unfortunate experience, a "sympathetic " colleague of Fleck's hands him a gun for his personal protection. This act of kindness played an important catalyst to Arthur's transition from a meek individual to this cult of personality. But is that enough to prevent Fleck from totally going over the edge? Of course not, because it is about the Joker!
I appreciated this very loose adaptation of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, whereas Joker's origin although, perfect, was a tease compared to the full deconstruction of said character. Director Todd Phillips of Hangover fame sucks you within Arthur's nihilistic world, the 80's aesthetics feel very organic thanks to the cinematography and set pieces. The story itself bears a few social commentary undertones, yet modest and not hamfisted.
Some may feel emphatic towards Arthur or identify with him, while others may believe his hostile actions, justifiable especially when it comes to mistreatment of individuals who may not be of the norm. At the end of the day, its up to the moviegoer to come away of this film, based on his/her perception.He's either portrayed as victim of society, a vigilante by proxy, a sociopath devoid of compassion or a symbol of anarchism. Again, "perception".
Now let's discuss the best part of Joker, and that's the Joker himself.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers an exceptional tour de force as Arthur Fleck! The acting is Oscar worthy even during non-speaking roles like when Arthur is seen coming out of his "cocoon" embracing his persona non grata with a wicked dance.
Robert DeNiro is also deserving of an Academy nomination. His Marty is humorous, smug, arrogant yet compassionate towards Joker's victims, while Sophie, played by Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is sympathetic to Arthur's problems which instantly manifest into this "love story" if not one of the most devilish bait and switch movie moments of 2019!
Brett Cullen's Thomas Wayne goes against type, since this version is far less humble and instead, a egomaniacal pompous jerk, who has aspiring ambitions to become the new Mayor of Gotham, after an unfortunate set of circumstances.
He scrutinizes the misfortune as "clowns" for rallying Arthur's instant notoriety. The subplot involving him and Arthur, dovetails into an unforeseen batshit revelation, that's too farfetched, when going against the character's canonical roots.
And without delving further into any potential spoilers, I have to say that its really the 3rd and final act, where everything falls into place, here, we really get to see the true manifestation of the Joker!
And what follows, is Shakespearean theater filed with chaos, a modicum of dark comedy and an open ending, that has speculation of a sequel in the future.
As it stands, Joker is a brilliant character study and also another example of DC Warner Bros branching out to various themes and venues within cinema. While SHAZAM was a family friendly Superhero tale with heart, Joker is an dark and surrealistic film that while offers no resolution to society's dilemmas, it does an impeccable job at spotlighting the downtrodden and repercussions that occur, when mistreating the less than fortunate.
Todd Phillips has proved that he is capable of doing drama without the need to be pigeonholed as a comedy Director, thanks to this movie.
While Joker may seem to be a sum of many parts, at the end of the day, its a total satisfactory theatrical experience.