Joker Movie Review
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy
Oscar Wins: Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Original Score
Other Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture
What draws us to the strange and unusual? I know I’m not alone when I say I’d rather sit in bed watching true crime documentaries than do just about anything else. But why this weird fascination with the dredge and scum of society? What is it about Walter White, Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer that always keeps me coming back for more?
Understandably, I think it’s simply a desire to know why. What drives someone to a life of crime? It’s the question at the heart of every serial killer documentary and the catalyst for Todd Phillips’ Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix is the most recent addition in a long line of actors who have given it their all to play this notorious Batman villain. In this interpretation, Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A for-hire clown by day and a want-to-be stand-up comic by night, Fleck lacks the one thing he needs to succeed in his dream job: a sense of humor. His sets bomb so badly that the late-night talk shows mock him endlessly. Fleck doesn’t tell jokes, he IS the joke.
As a victim of mental illness, Fleck is also plagued with a disorder that causes him to laugh hysterically during stressful or uncomfortable situations. Whether it’s a coping mechanism or an actual disease is never explained; however, he does carry a card with him explaining his situation, meaning he’s probably gotten treatment for it at one time.
This laughter is just one of many things not in Arthur’s control – and ironically is the spark that forces him to make one bad decision, resulting in a chain reaction of escalating events. Though he’s not nearly the cunning mastermind that Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson brought to the screen (he’s not even the master of his own faculties), Fleck becomes a victim of his environment and embarks on a dark, compelling journey into self-destruction.
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Phoenix is electrifying in what might be his best movie role to date. Like the legends that came before him, Phoenix’s interpretation of the Joker is uniquely him and undoubtedly mesmerizing. Few actors could carry a movie like this on their tiny 100-pound skin and bone frame, but Phoenix appears to do it effortlessly.
Besides the incredible acting by Phoenix, the cinematography is breathtaking, giving us real-world vibes of 1980’s city life. Director Todd Phillips was said to have been inspired by the films of Martin Scorsese, specifically Taxi Driver, and it shows in the camerawork for this film. Robert DeNiro was even cast as a late-night TV host in Joker as a nod to Scorsese’s influence.
Besides racking up 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, Joker also was the biggest October opening of all time, bringing in $93.5 million. As of now, it’s grossed over $1 billion, making it the first R-rated movie to do so, and is the 33rd highest grossing film of all time. Nothing to laugh at there!
So, what role does society play in creating a villain? Are these social outcasts mere products of their environment or is something else at play when it comes to turning to a life of crime? In Joker, we get a look into how mental illness, self-deprecation and loneliness drives a man insane. And like Walter White or the broken minds of serial killers, you may not agree with it, but you get it.