Review: ‘Joker’

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joker tells the story of man doomed to fall into insanity.

3.9 / 10

Joker is a Batman spinoff of our favourite cackling, murderous and perhaps a little overplayed comic book super villain. A standalone movie that acts as a possible origin for the eponymous clown, about a man’s dive off the deep end as he experiences a bad week and a particularly bad day.

It’s just unfortunately disappointing that despite a game cast and cinematographer, Joker really has nothing say about it that hasn’t already been said before in other movies it’s inspired by, and even other better movies about him.

In the film Arthur Fleck, Played by Joaquin Phoenix, a depressed mentally ill man living with his mother Penny Fleck, (Frances Conroy). He’s living a fairly unhappy life as a clown for hire, constantly breaking out into uncontrolled laughter at inopportune times due to a mental condition.

He dreams of being a stand up comedian and admires TV show host and comedian Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro. Unfortunately, due to various hardships across Gotham City, his week only gets worse and worse, until he begins to tear at the seems and becomes an icon to be remembered.

The cast is exceptional here, especially Phoenix, who plays Arthur Fleck/Joker with a subtle sadness and viciousness. Any moment he could snap and it would feel completely in character. He’s able to make the role his own, standing along side Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger, one of the great Joker actors.

The rest of cast also act the heck out of what they’ve got, leading to some compelling performances by De Niro, Conroy and Zazie Beetz, who plays Arthur’s “love interest” of sorts.

However, other than additionally gorgeous cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the rest of the movie suffers due to its direction, story, dialogue, message and setting.

Throughout the ordeal, the film cannot decide whether Arthur’s actions are to be sympathized with or not. There will be scenes where something clearly awful is going on, but from moment to moment, the tone and attitude of the film will shift on wether or not The Joker was heroic in his actions.

Sometime into the film, Arthur commits a gruesome act of violence after getting abused, the film waffling back and fourth on wether or not he was in the right afterwards

Certain characters will behave in ways that might seem to be rude or just wrong, but given the circumstances these scenes happen in where someone may have done soemthing inappropriate, the message is again, confused.

In addition to the problem with its message, Joker also hits a snag: it’s story incredibly mundane and unoriginal. The ideas the film communicates have been done in other films many times before. Taxi Driver springs to mind, which was allegedly an inspiration for the film.

Joker even takes from other Batman comic stories and movies staring the Joker. The Dark Knight constantly springs to mind throughout, but rather as a pale imitation, missing the nuance and originality of that films portrayal of the villain.

Instead, the standalone movie opts to basically lift the feel and outlook of Christopher Nolan’s film wholesale without the subtleties, even if the performances are something new and commendable. The Joker’s face painted look even takes cues from Heath Ledger, right down to him using it to scare people. It’s one thing to be inspired by a movie’s tone and style, it’s another to copy someone else’s and not even pick a point to come too.

There was one other issue that came up unexpectedly: the setting. It appears that in an attempt to make Gotham city look rundown and mundane, it ends up feeling generic. No discernible landmarks, no sense of history and no sense of style. Just a generic city that appears grimy and depressed. Or at least the parts of it we see.

If it were to have lifted anything from previous Batman films, perhaps it could have lifted from Batman Begins, where Thomas Wayne explains to a young Bruce the significance of the monorail line and the history behind it. Joker has nothing in the way of this, making Gotham appear to be just another city, when settings are characters in and of themselves, and serve as reflections to our protagonists emotional state.

Joker is a joke that we’ve all heard before. A once funny joke told with enthusiasm and drive, but now being told by a bland, inferior comedian, lifted from other talented people and confused at what the punchline was meant to be, or even if he wanted a proper punchline at all.

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