★ ★ ★ ★
Director Todd Phillips, most notably known for his work on the Hangover movies, has created a thrilling adaptation of the iconic Batman villain in his ground-breaking new film Joker.
However, Phillip’s origin story for the cackling adversary to Batman has been plagued by controversy, with critics unceasingly tormenting the movie. The controversy surrounding the film is in reference to the tone which allegedly glorifies criminal behaviour. In opposition to this stance, the film’s focus is primarily on the mental state of its main character. The reading that Phillips is glorifying criminal behaviour as a viable reaction to society’s downfalls is easily interpreted but can just as easily be debunked when we look at the style of the director. Phillips enjoys playing to his audience’s animalistic urges, illustrating a dark and inescapable reality. There is no fear in the making of this film as it portrays the Joker as an individual struggling to cope with mental illness. It highlights many issues surrounding the struggles of the mentally ill whilst also commentating on the lack of societal intervention in regards to treatment and care.
The film itself is carried by the emphatically electric performance of Joaquin Phoenix, as his character Arthur Fleck struggles to crumble the societal walls that have kept him imprisoned in the urban hell-scape that is Gotham City. It is a masterful performance that the character of Joker has not seen since Heath Ledger’s rendering in The Dark Knight. Each scene carries immense emotional weight, always keeping the audience guessing as to whether he is going to break down into a flood of tears or rise above the ever-oppressing society he has been forced to endure. Joker is by no means the comic book movie audiences have come to expect over the last few years. In many regards, it is not a comic book movie at all; instead it is a character piece focused on the deranged mind of Arthur Fleck. This Joker has not been taken from the pages of a DC graphic novel but moulded by his environment, leading to a character the audience can sympathise with as they witness the harsh realities of the world attempt to beat and destroy Arthur. I use deranged deliberately as the director has no issues with presenting the audience with the diabolical actions of an unsettled mind. The film is well paced with no areas that drag along unceremoniously. The soundtrack compliments the action extremely well, making many scenes increasingly evocative. The entire aesthetic of the film is excellent, from the 1970’s Warner Brothers logo used at the beginning of the film, to the set and character design.
The reason, however, Joker loses a star is due to its heavy use of previous film ideas. It allows itself to lean heavily on the works of Martin Scorsese such as Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, implementing them in a way that would make Scorsese scoff. It is this lack of originality in some respects that drags the film down. Overall, Joker is a must see film for this October. Whether you are a comic book fan or not, the stellar performance of Joaquin Phoenix carries an incredible character piece that is only let down by a slight lack of originality, as it uses the works of Scorsese as a crutch.
Brendan O’Brien – Film Writer