STARRING: JOAQUIN PHOENIX; ROBERT DE NIRO; ZAZIE BEETZ; MARC MARON; BRETT CULLEN
DIRECTED BY: TODD PHILLIPS
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
For worse and worse, Joker is the movie of the time we are in, which means it will divide us all, and accomplish nothing. It's violent, lonely, angry, and disturbing, which happens to be all the ways to describe Twitter arguments. For all the build up and conversations surrounding Joker, and there are many to be had, what shocked me most was how empty I felt after watching it. Make no mistake, I consider myself a massive fan of comic books and a fan of any work that shows love for Martin Scorsese. Todd Phillips is at least admirable for attempting to merge Taxi Driver into an origin story of Batman's biggest foe, but at its core, I think Phillips misses the marks of what Scorsese was trying to say back in 1976. What you will hear over and over again is praise for the powerhouse work by Joaquin Phoenix, an actor that never needed to become a comic book villain to show his range, but here we are. What you won't feel is entertained and if you have an ounce of moral fiber in your body, you will only leave Joker feeling worse than you did before.
Ever since Christopher Nolan finished putting his style into the DC Comic world in the Dark Knight trilogy, I've only read, or heard from other fans, wanting their comic book movies to be rooted in “dark” or “gritty” themes again. They asked for it and now they have gotten it in Joker. And before I get too deep into the plot of the movie, let me say that it is possible for a movie to be good and bad at the same time. I would say that Joker is that movie. It is impeccably crafted, with cinematography from Lawrence Sher that elevates every scene, and the camera loves capturing Phoenix playing in his mad man sandbox. What it is lacking is a character that reminds us of our morality. He may have been lonely, but even Travis Bickle was fighting for the less fortunate ones. Joker is fighting only with himself.
The antihero is Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a sad man, with a mental condition of some kind, working daily as a clown, trying to get the attention of potential customers at local furniture stores. His existence is filled with daydreaming, having hopes of being romantically involved with his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) and becoming a big comedy star on Gotham's late night talk show with Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). His reality is taking care of his sick mother Penny (Frances Conroy) and getting pushed around by punks that roam the streets. With each moment that Arthur is pushed, we inch a little closer to him becoming the villain to the bat, and at no point does Todd Phillips stop with the pushing. Arthur's life is so miserable, it's impossible to not become depressed.
The script from Phillips and Scott Silver takes the outer shell of Taxi Driver, sprinkles in a bit of The King of Comedy, and makes it about the Jokers rise to full time anarchist. What becomes exhausting is the first half's boring pace, the narratives consistent reminder that everything is awful, and Phillips constant strain to relate the material to our current times. After Arthur engages in his first round of evil acts, murdering three Wayne Enterprise jerk-offs on a train, the symbol of the killing clown becomes a rally cry for Gotham. Protesters wear clown masks while carrying signs that say resist, the common man that has been pushed down by society is now speaking for us all, but this guy just so happens to be extremely dangerous. What's the moral of the story? No, honestly I don't know what is Phillip's moral of the story? Not once did I want to cheer for Arthur because Phillips fails to add any form of good yin to Jokers mad yang. Joker wants us to feel empathy for someone with a mental disorder or someone who was abused at a young age, but should we really cheer for the guy who we know becomes the terror of this world? Phillips never seems to find a way to get around to that, and so Joker suffers for it.
It goes without saying that Joaquin Phoenix's performance is a revelation, losing some 52 pounds for the role, and developing a laugh that will haunt you in your sleep. This is his show and if any positive can be said, at least we are lucky to witness it. Sadly though, Joker represents the worst of us. I was disgusted to hear people in the audience laughing and clapping at some of the Jokers most vile and heinous acts, but should I have been surprised? Is that who we are? Are we cheering for the bad guys now? This is the makeup that America has painted on its face and unfortunately, this is the makeup that doesn’t wash off. Joker is a painful sit and for some reason everybody loves a clown. Even the bad ones.
Written by: Leo Brady