“Joker” has finally arrived in a concoction that is equal parts “A Clockwork Orange” and “Taxi Driver.”
Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is a well-crafted character study of a man whose life is whittled down to nothing as he descends into madness.
Arthur Fleck is presented without judgement as he transitions from a well-meaning outcast to a violent pariah.
The title of this movie may as well be Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” as this movie would not be a fraction of what it is without his performance.
Phoenix’s portrayal of Fleck is the central pillar of this film. Every detail of the character is accounted for-the way his shoulder blades protrude, his dancing going downstairs, or the way he holds his throat as he cackles.
One detail that stuck out was the way Flecks cigarettes-they are always almost finished and just on the edge of burning Flecks hand-reflect a man on the cusp of madness.
The entirety of the supporting cast is phenomenal but the movie belongs to Phoenix and Phillips. Phillips’ lens masterfully pans from comedy to drama as he jumps genres to direct “Joker.”
The film is painstakingly beautiful in its portrayal of violence and chaos and the result is a bittersweet emotional journey. The film is beautiful while in progress but devastating upon arrival at its destination. Breathtaking shots come so often in the film that they begin to seem mundane.
Phillips’ direction can start to linger over the course of the film but the emotional movements turn out to be rewarding often. The score in this film is emotional, tender, and patient while also providing enough excitement to support the movies more artistic sections.
“Joker” is light on references to its comic book origins but it finds just enough space to make use of the tropes of the traditional Batman story. Gotham as a backdrop provides a grimy, gritty and realistic setting for this take on the character. Shots of familiar locations in Gotham don’t seem egregious or over done and they provide an interesting context for the films themes.
The most interesting aspect of the films somewhat predictable plot was the portrayal of Fleck as an unreliable narrator. Viewers will inevitably have questions about the films ending scenes and their implication for its main characters but that is by design.
“Joker” portrays Fleck as a man whose reality has become so fragile his dreams and delusions have become indistinguishable from his own reality.
The result is a film that feels as deluded and disassociated as its protagonist while still feeling complete. “Joker” manages to make its unreliable narrator relatable and sympathetic enough that the film moves smooth through Fleck delusions.
Fleck’s delusions of grandeur and visions are easily identifiable from the truth and do not confuse the themes or conflicts at the heart of the film.
For a movie that’s release was drenched in controversy “Joker,” is relatively tame for a dark character study of a murderous psychopath.
The film is no more violent than “Taxi Driver” and is far more palatable than “A Clockwork Orange” and its messages are no more dangerous than “Fight Club.”
No single shot in “Joker” is in any way inflammatory or disingenuous to its message and themes.
Of course, “Joker” has senseless violence but it doesn’t linger on its carnage and it doesn’t revel in its gore. Instead the film is far more interested in reflecting on a society that has lost touch with its core values and finds itself casting villains as protagonists.
“Joker” doesn’t idolize or glorify the actions of mass murderers but it does pose interesting questions about a society in which those murders persist. Joker is a phenomenal film for those who may be interested in a slow burning character study about a mans decent into madness.
This film may be worth avoiding for children and viewers who expected a comic book film or a more traditional superhero movie.