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DISCLAIMER: There are no major spoilers in this review but we do touch on what happens after a big event in the film without any major spoilers.
Since the Joker was first teased as pictures of the mercurial Joaquin Phoenix circulated online with the iconic green hair and clown-like makeup, the buzz only got louder and louder, one that I don't think any DC film has quite received since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and I for one, haven’t been as excited to pay a trip to my local cinema since this year’s earlier blockbuster - Avengers: Endgame. With director Todd Phillips’ filmography past, centring around The Hangover Trilogy and War Dogs, I was as sceptical as I was excited to see just what tone this movie was going to take.
With a lead as talented as Joaquin Phoenix and the hype train reaching full speed, with rumours of an 8-minute standing ovation at the prestigious Venice Film festival circulated, was it setting itself up for a gigantic fall?
Absolutely not and to say it's dark, might just be the understatement of the year.
Joker is set in 1981, Gotham with its social structure under scrutiny as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The film is centered around protagonist Arthur Fleck's (Joaquin Phoenix) journey from a down-and-out standup comedian, to the clown prince of crime via his struggle with mental illness and society at large.
Arthur is bullied and downtrodden by a society that doesn't want to see him succeed. With continuous vicious beatings, coupled with a search for his parentage, it brings him from a skeletal form of pain and nicotine, to a man that will one day be king of Gotham, whilst documenting along the way in his pornographically plastered ‘journal-cum-joke book’.
Now if I'm going be honest, the screenplay, written by Todd Phillips (co-wrote by Scott Silver) is nothing short of flat, it has no originality and offers very little creatively to the world that Fleck inhabits, but there are 2 areas where this film completely comes alive.
Joaquin Phoenix is staking a claim early on for an Oscar nod next year. To say that he is exemplary in this film would be harsh, right from the opening scene of this movie where we see Fleck openly and honestly discussing his declining mental health and reliance on medication with a psychiatrist, the scene is set for what was already to be a stellar outing. Right from this moment through to the very end, Phoenix is unrelenting in his depiction of a man’s descent to madness, whether it’s touching moments watching the Murray Franklin Show (Robert De Niro) with his mother, or the sudden outbursts his haunting take on the infamous Joker cackle. It's distressing yet familiar, dark yet sympathetic, gritty yet silky smooth, I’d almost go as far to say, he’s perfect, but are we really surprised?
With some great support coming from Zazie Beats, Robert De Niro & Frances Conroy - the performances in this movie are outstanding and in parts, carry the movie.
Now I'm a self-confessed lover of scores and I have a passionate view that a great score can make mediocre films exceptional, and Joker is no different and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s work on this movie is nothing short of stunning. When I first saw that the Icelandic composer would be composing this movie after her recent success on HBO’s critically acclaimed Chernobyl, the hairs on my neck stood on end.
Every single note of this score hits perfectly, musically and tonally, completely polarising the exceptional performances that accompany it. This hits its dramatic crescendo in ‘Bathroom Dance’. Prior to this scene, we see Arthur Fleck take his first victim, our first glimpse of the darkness inside him - he runs and runs, locking himself in the bathroom.
We then see Fleck dance a beautifully choreographed routine that resembles Thai Chai, he’s no longer a victim of a bullying society, Arthur has tasted empowerment. Accompanied by the haunting score of the same name, ‘Bathroom Dance’, it's operatic, it's dramatic, it's a haunting blanket of serenity that covers a grubby toilet. We’re seeing the birth of the Joker through the most delicate window and its without a doubt the scariest scene in this film - and it was 100% unscripted.
To be transparent, this film is so bleak. Joker will 100% be the most divisive film of this year, with people loving it for the same reasons people will hate it - it tackles real-world issues rather than trying to get one over on a man in a bat suit.
It’s a tragicomic, uncomfortable, disorientating and above all else, it’s petrifying which is only made worse by the social parallels within our own 21st-century world. It lives in your head, and 48 hours after my first viewing, I can't get images of Phoenix in this film out of my head (I quite literally saw them in my dreams) and for what it lacks in story it makes up for in outstanding instances of genius from Phoenix & Guðnadóttir as well as some pretty nice cinematography from Lawrence Sher along the way, that are perhaps so good that by the end of the movie, the story feels bigger (and scarier) than you.
Todd Phillips & Joaquin Phoenix haven’t just reinvented one of the greatest comic villains of all time but the comic book movie itself, paying homage to the gloom & grit of 1970’s cinema along the way in the most miserable of ways.
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Posted by: Max
Max is our resident cinema fanatic! He loves all kind movies from the big Summer blockbusters right down to smaller independent movies and makes regular trips to his local flicks to make sure he's caught up on any and every release!
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