[Early Review] Joker (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

121 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.

 

Well, it’s finally here, the prequel to the Batman series that isn’t connected to any Batman films. Wait, the Joker origin story that isn’t The Killing Joke. Wait, so what is it? It’s something else, I’ll tell you. This film is really something else…

It’s really getting crazy out there, and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) sees it. He’s down on his luck, living paycheck to paycheck with his mother, and he’s constantly picked on by others. He has a goal in life, to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he sees his idol, late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, The Wizard of Lies), as an escape. He wants to be a comedian like Murray, but all he has is negative thoughts. When Arthur is pushed into a corner, he finds a new way to put a smile on, one that will transform him into an icon all his own.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s film. There are no costars. The other performances are practically extended cameos. Phoenix makes this version of the Joker all his own. His performance is filled with intensity (his eyes are filled with anger) and depression. Phoenix researched multiple psychological disorders in order to give an unidentifiable character, one that could not be diagnosed. The dialogue and physicality is disturbing and unnerving to no end.

This is a film that is intense, unhappy, and joyless. Director Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover Part III), who co-wrote the screenplay, infused the film with moments that made me and the rest of the audience nervously laugh, and I felt bad for laughing after. There’s a weird feeling the film gave to me, where I felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t, or perhaps watching something I felt bad watching. There’s an emotionally disturbing quality to the film but I would say that those looking for violence won’t see as much as critics have proclaimed. What violence is in the film is very powerful and more character-focused than shock-driven. It’s more emotionally and mentally violent.

The biggest flaw I would have with the film is the final scene, but I’m not sure how I would end the film other than how it ends. I would also argue that the film contains fewer surprises than I expected. It’s fairly straight-forward. It’s not a true-to-nature flaw, I would say, but the controversy and the critical reception might be overselling the shocking nature of the film. It was pretty much how I expected the story to go.

Joker is a masterful film with a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix. This is a man in his playground, a thrillingly-disturbing character study that’s unlike any comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen. The film makes use of its unreliable narrator better than almost any other film ever has. Temper your expectations for any shocking revelations because this is a standalone film that is one of the more crazy movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. See this movie, but only if you think you can handle it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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