DC and Warner Bros. send in the clown for this Joker origin story; one set apart from the established DCEU and one that has been a hot topic during it’s festival run where it landed the major Golden Lion trophy in Venice. This film is definitely one that’ll get people talking but is it for the right reasons?
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown with dreams of being a comedian but instead has to undertake menial jobs around Gotham City and look after his ill mother Penny (Frances Conroy). After being beaten on a metro train, Arthur rises from his depressing state and begins a new birth of violent terror that sweeps through the city and sees him become the Joker.
Moving away from comedies like ‘The Hangover’ and ‘Old School’, is Todd Phillips who clearly models this super-villain tale on the Martin Scorcese pictures of the 1970’s. The cinema of old with the gangster vibes and the civilian violence echoing ‘Taxi Driver’, mixed with our new and frankly scary environment of American mass shooters creates a bold and disturbing story.
What works insanely well about this movie is the feeling that you can’t overlap it into any other comic book film that we’ve come to grow familiar with in the last 10+ years. ‘Joker’ is a fresh angle on the genre, what with it’s early 80’s setting, the lack of any pigeonholing to tie it in with the DCEU and an out-and-out sense that this triumphs as a startling stand alone flick.
The film is extremely heavy on close ups which shoves you into the worrying world of Arthur. It’s almost as if we’re holding his hand alongside the descent into psychopathic carnage, set about by how society views people like him. The treatment of mental illness is a tricky one as it sort of gives explanation to the real-life white men who pick up a gun and kill innocents and in an alarming way this film does almost feel celebratory of a man unhinged.
Mob mentality and civil unrest take hold and before long, the New York style of Gotham City are rife with aggressive protesters. This is all thanks to an unknowing Arthur, whose fate and figure are painted out in front of him thanks to a brutal sequence of events. The film gives us sanity to the insanity as the script sympathises with why Fleck goes the way he does, which both feels unnerving and takes away from the mystery and reckless chaotic nature of the Joker doing what he does just for the sake of it.
Saying this, the man with the bleeding smile is a force of unattainable talent. Joaquin Phoenix drops the pounds and puts on a happy face to build up a seriously chilling man on the edge. Arthur Fleck takes part in a post-murder meditative routine and further on he calms down the craziness around him with dance inflections that are perfectly jarring. The incessant cackling and staring eyes, glistening with distracted disorder set within the green hair and red suit are an image you won’t forget. Phoenix makes sure his Joker is not like the others and relinquishes true uncomfortable terror.
‘Joker’ is a slow-burner of captivating unease; with a fascinating central performance, a gritty 70’s inspired atmosphere and a score which pricks up the hairs on your skin as if anything can happen around the corner when Arthur is present. It’s a film that some will adore, some will dislike but it’ll provoke all to a sensory reaction.