Movie Review: Joker
Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of his best performances since Walk The Line in Todd Phillips’ Joker, now playing in theaters.
Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as The Joker.
But how can a movie about the Joker work without Batman? This film answers that question with a bit of a twist on the character. Joker makes the classic villain an antihero who inspires the citizens of Gotham to rise up against the rich and elite in City Hall. Joker doesn’t need Batman because he is the hero of this story and the villains are poverty, neglect, and oppression.
This is a version of the character that we haven’t seen before. There have been many origin stories, but rarely do they have the details of his life so laid out, from his real name to his immediate family members. But he is not well. He functions normally thanks to a combination of pills, plus a neurological condition that causes him to burst out into painfully uncontrollable laughter, usually at the worst possible time.
Fleck doesn’t start out bad in this movie, he is actually trying to be a good person. But the Gotham that we see in the film isn’t kind to good people. Social workers are on strike and garbage is piling up all around the city. Gangs of teenagers and groups of Wall Street tools find a common object to take their aggression out on: defeated, vulnerable people like Arthur Fleck. As things get worse, the social program that gives Fleck his pills get cut and Fleck’s sanity starts to degrade and his reality breaks down along with him.
Pheonix’s turn as the Clown Prince of Crime enters the growing list of phenomenal Joker performances, matching those of Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, and others in joyful insanity. Pheonix’s performances as the Joker brings something that no other interpretation has had: humanity. Fleck/Joker isn’t just some insane criminal for Batman to stop, he is just a man who has had the cards stacked against him his entire life, building up to an explosion of violent self-acceptance. He isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but even when he embraces his new persona and things get even crazier and twisted, you still find yourself rooting for him.
That’s because, as evil and twisted he may be, the Joker does have a point. Society has done more than abandon him, it never cared about him to begin with.
It was hard to imagine a Joker movie without Batman, but that is where Joker succeeds – it turns the iconic character into an antihero. Joaquin Pheonix gives humanity to the character in an Oscar-worthy performance that will delight audiences. The movie may make you a bit uncomfortable, but it will make you stay until the credits stop rolling; as great movies often do.
Critic Rating:5/5 stars
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