Movie Review #1: Joker



    If comic book films are considered “not cinema,” then it would be easy to write off director Todd Phillips’ film “Joker.”

    The story of the Joker has come in various iterations. First introduced in the “Batman” pilot issue comic in 1940, the story of Arthur Fleck, played by Golden Globe winner and three-time Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix, a mentally ill working clown and aspiring comedian turned ferocious psychopath and notorious superhero villain is widely known amongst its fans, both on page and on-screen.

    Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the Joker comes after a series of actor portrayals of the same character. What differentiates Phoenix’s performance from his predecessors is the level of intensity that the director and Phoenix bring to the film. Phoenix’s Joker is the most relentless, disturbing and brutal depiction ever seen in the Batman mythology.

    Phoenix’s ability to confront the harsh realities such as mental illness and unmanageable violence the fictional character faces is phenomenal to say the least. To put it in a term seen widely used amongst film critics, it’s simply “Oscar-worthy.”

To compare Phoenix’s interpretation of the role to prior performances is quite frankly underscoring the overall achievement of Phillip’s astonishing take on the character. Phillip’s ability to take an overused and beloved comic book nemesis and create an elaborate character analysis rather than a so-called spin-off is delivered in such an elegant and aesthetically pleasing way, it creates the feeling of witnessing something new and refreshing.

Phillip, who was commonly known as the typical comedy director of films like “The Hangover” trilogy, “The Old School” and “Borat,” has finally entered the big leagues. It was the 2016 crime drama, “War Dogs” where the audience finally got a glimpse of what could hopefully be an ‘elite’ filmmaker. It’s only now with “Joker”, the highest grossing October released film, where he has entered the ring, creating an almost Scorsese-verse film.

    Fans for years have demanded Hollywood filmmakers give birth to new methods of storytelling from the point of view of the antagonists, and we finally get the film we deserve; one where your sympathy isn’t towards the character rather the society built around them.

    Cinematographer Lawrence Sher, in collaboration with the director, captures the essence of the grim, dark and ghastly Gotham City in almost every single frame, elevating the cinematic look rarely seen in commercially successful films, never mind in a comic book movie. This duo gave the illusion of a very broken down and fractured society, filled with multiple societal issues such as pollution, poverty, the rich versus the poor, etc. as well as paying homage to the 1970-1980 classics like “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.”

    The world building is truly an unsung hero in this entire film. Although Gotham is fictitious, it serves as almost a mirror reflection of the contemporary society we reside in today. From government limitations and citizen uprisings, “Joker” serves as a reminder of what could happen if we don’t keep civilians with or without power in check.

    Composing a film during pre-production is a rarity in the Hollywood filmmaking business, but yet it was essential to Phillips’ creative process in order to conjure up this cinematic triumph. Female composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, along with a catalog of pop rock and swing classics like Frank Sinatra’s, “Send In the Clowns,” and The Guess Who hit, “Laughing,” make for a more serious and tragic tone. The score, unlike other films, follows the character and in a way tells a story within the film alone. It is something to pay attention to.

    “Joker” is a stand alone film, relying only on the Batman mythology when it needs to. In other words, this is not your typical Nolan or Burton-esque Batman movie. This is a bleak and very realistic representation and non-glorification of violence, and about the mentally challenged featuring a recognizable pop culture icon. Phoenix via his acting evokes the very prominent message of social accountability.

    Thus, it is a cinematic masterpiece. “Joker” is rated-R for a reason; it is violent, disturbing, horrific, graphic and triggering. With that said, it is also a brilliant film. The screenplay, written by Phillips in collaboration with Scott Silver, is absolutely witty and smart.

    The duo, without condemning the actions of the main character, were able to make a broken pitiable man become irredeemable. Allowing for subtle themes and sub-plots made for an engaging and immersive theater going experience.

    But with that said, once again, “Joker” is a very disturbing film. It is highly understandable, especially with all the controversy surrounding its release, that one might feel timid or fearful of seeing it in the cineplex, but with all due respect, it would be a disservice to the filmmakers if you do not see this film once in your lifetime.

    “Joker” lives up to the hype.



Director- Todd Phillips

Cast- Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Brian Tyree Henry

Sebastian Guzman